I’m back from watching the finals of the Jessup 2008 International Round and want to jot down what I saw and articulate some of the frustration I felt with the finals.
This year, Case Western Reserve University took on the University of New South Wales.
Case Western started the case as Applicant’s, while UNSW were the Respondents. Now Respondents clearly have the harder case this year, but the problem is pretty balanced, and I’m now sure there are some excellent arguments for the Respondent who is properly prepared.
The first Agent of the Applicants was good. it was clear from the outset she was a good speaker, with a smooth, relaxed and composed style. She had some difficulties with questions but was smooth enough that it didn’t matter. She had a great ability to take a question and tie its answer back in to the structure of her submissions, so that she got all her points across without the slightest interruption.
Importantly, for the listener, she had the sound of conviction and force in her voice, which made everything that little bit better. Sadly for the listener, she was the first and last to possess this quality. She did rightly win best speaker, but it shouldn’t have been so clear cut.
The Second Agent of the Applicant was average. He had a weak case and there was more need for advocacy to carry his points. The questioning was probing as the judges warmed up, and he didn’t rise to the challenge. He was unremarkable but high quality speaking without being convincing.
The first Respondent’s Agent for UNSW was disappointing. He was short, sharp and far too in love with his case to engage the panel. The silky smooth presentation was there, but it lacked decorum. There was little deference to the bench, an unwillingness to address the judges questions and an inability to spot when the judges handed him opportunities.
By this point all four of us had given it to the Applicant. The Second Agent needed to be special to rescue her team. It had to be that the first agent was the junior of the pair, if UNSW were to win.
The Second Agent for the Respondent was a mixed bag. As Ernest pointed out, she was so smooth that she put you to sleep. It was just devoid of all emphasis, all clear signaling and all sense of importance. It just didn’t feel like the Agent cared about the case. That was fatal.
She was immensely well read, could answer questions on obscure points of the International Criminal Court Statute with ease, but none of these overcame the disadvantages.
Rebuttal and Sur-Rebuttal were unremarkable. Lots of faux agreement, because the teams agreed on issues that the judges had raised, and well might they agree. The issues were tangential taken at their best.
Overall, I was disappointed by the finals. Tim has often said that finals disappoint in any competition. These ones proved him right. The new judges, appointed for their prestige rather than their knowledge of the law or the problem proved unsuitable to the occasion. Teams, cast in the public glare, felt the pressure.
And this final suffered from all those flaws.
Partly the judges were to blame. Inspite of their eminence, their understanding of the field in which the problem was placed, and their years of professional experience, they hadn’t quite tweaked to what it means to be a Jessup judge. The sharp questioning, the insight into the facts and policy, and a real understanding of the issues thrown up by the problem would have made the final round much better. Instead they typified the Common Law passive judge. When one of the judges is the man who prosecuted the case of Nikolic before the ICTY, but still lets sloppy characterisations of it slide by, its uninspiring at its most fundamental level.
It was some beautiful advocacy, if you like slow paced, measured and dull advocacy. Its lack of passion turned it into a background noise, an international law lullaby.
It was absolutely insipid on the law, with points argued that made us laugh out loud that these teams still even barely considered them even mildly viable arguments. And the reasons they are not viable are easily expressed in a four word or five word question. Fundamental questions that would have destroyed these arguments.
I had hopes for so much more.