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Out of this world: Curtin Law students win moot court competition

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Astronauts, space debris and laser beams are not words you normally hear in the court room, but for Curtin Business School law students Ricardo Napper, Rachel O’Meara and Jocelyn Watts, words such as these and the laws that govern outer space have become much more familiar after the trio won the Asia-Pacific regional round of the prestigious Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court competition earlier this year.

The students, coached by Associate Professor Vernon Nase and Assistant Coach Rowan Stotesbury, will be heading to Mexico later this month to compete in the world finals of the competition alongside three regional team finalists from Africa, America and Europe.

“I think we were all just shell shocked!” says O’Meara, describing the moment they found out they had won the regional round. “We were excited but didn’t fully process it. The semi-finals and grand finals were a
lot more intense than the general rounds. It was really exciting but it didn’t fully hit us until we came back to Australia.”

“We’ve come a long way!” Watts laughs. “In October last year we were asking, ‘There’s a law in outer space?!’”

A moot court competition simulates a real court hearing with participants analysing, researching and arguing both sides of an assigned legal issue in front of a panel of judges.

The first round of the competition involved the students writing two 14,000 word memorials detailing the legal issues in the assigned case. The case detailed liability issues with space debris and commercial spaceflight services.

“It’s a very rigorous process to say the least. You have to research the law and apply it to the facts,” says Watts.

The students met up to three times a week, with meetings lasting as long as seven hours.

“The very first draft was the hardest for all of us,” says Napper. “And it was due on Christmas Day!” adds Watts.

Twenty teams of the 26 who applied made it through to the second round of oral advocacy, which took place in the Indian city of Bangalore.

The students describe their trip to India as a chaotic, colourful and intense experience with amazing food and a lot of pressure.

Watts explains, “We had the general rounds on Friday, an all-day conference on Saturday and the semi-finals and grand finals on Sunday – the day we also flew out!”

O’Meara adds, “It was very intense. We were trying to adapt to the new environment as well as participate in the competition and maintain our composure but we did end up doing really well in the general rounds.”

The team is now preparing for the finals in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“This time, the people who sit on the panels and all the judges are leading experts in the field – the top space lawyers,” says Watts. “For the world final, the judges are coming from the International Court of Justice, which is a daunting concept because I study public international law at the moment and read their judgements and articles – and now I could be speaking in front of them!”

Napper adds, “One of our biggest challenges will be the time difference. We’ll be sleeping during the day time [for our body clock] and mooting during the night!”

Associate Professor Vernon Nase is clearly very proud of the students.

“The great success of our students on the international stage is due to their many months of hard work, dedication and sacrifice and attests to the ability of Curtin students to achieve a high level of international excellence,” says Associate Professor Nase.

“We couldn’t have done it without Rowan and Dr Nase,” says O’Meara. “We peaked at the right time. Dr Nase trained us not to be perfect initially so that by the time we got to the regional finals we’d be at our best. It all came together in India and we’re adopting the same approach for Mexico.”