IASL Students win the 14th Leiden-Sarin International Air Law Moot Court Competition

Published: 16 May 2023

The McGill University Institute of Air and Space was proud to participate this year in the 14th Leiden-Sarin International Air Law Moot Court Competition, which was hosted by Leiden University in the Netherlands. The IASL was represented by our current graduate LL.M. students - Matthew Orsmbee (United States), Laura Triana Castano (Colombia), Judith Jahnke (Sweden), and coached by René David-Cooper (Doctoral candidate/Canada).

This year's case dealt with a dispute between two States following a cyberattack which allegedly contributed to a deadly mid-air collision between two airliners. The dispute raised questions of public international air law pertaining to the use of weapons against civil aircraft, State responsibility, dual registration of aircraft, breaches of an air services agreement, as well as claims regarding the independence and impartiality of ICAO. The team worked relentlessly throughout the 2022-23 academic year to draft factums, and participated in countless practices to develop and refine their oral pleadings in preparation for the in-person competition .

In the preliminary rounds, the IASL team faced off against teams from China, Indonesia, Turkey in France. Upon cumulating the total scores for all teams, the IASL team made it to the finals where it represented the respondent, which arguably had the hardest position to defend, against the applicants – represented by the University of Cologne. Both teams argued before a panel of three esteemed judges: Jeffrey Shane (former General Counsel/International Air Transport Association), Marc Nichols (General Counsel/Federal Aviation Administration) and Dr. Gérardine Goh Escolar (Deputy Secretary General of the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law).

During the finals, the IASL delivered a performance for the ages and demonstrated textbook oratorical art by captivating the bench and the audience with laser-sharp arguments, rebuttals and responses to challenging questions from the bench. Upon deliberation, the IASL team was awarded first place in the international competition and scored a hat-trick by also being awarded Best Memorial (Respondent) and Best Oral Pleadings (Applicants).

Matthew Ormsbee shared his experience with us:

We prepared tirelessly for eight months for this competition, reviewing the case file, researching the law, drafting two lengthy memorials, reviewing opponents' memorials, preparing and practicing our oral arguments, and bringing all our materials to Leiden. This was no small task. However, with the help of our coach, Rene David-Cooper, and the support of the entire Institute, every task was made simpler. It was a real team effort, and I couldn't have asked for better teammates with Judith Jahnke and Laura Triana. In many ways, this competition was the unofficial capstone of my LL.M. experience.

It was a roller coaster of emotions: we had great opponents from China, Indonesia, Turkey, and France (and eventually Germany in the final round). Without immediate feedback from the judges, it was hard to know how we were doing. Some of the rounds were very difficult, with questions coming non-stop from the judges. We did our best, but it was sometimes impossible to know if we were performing well all the time. Leiden University was an excellent host. The professors, students, and administrators showed us incredible hospitality and made the entire competition and conference a pleasure. I'm thankful to have such stellar colleagues across the Atlantic.

René David-Cooper, coach of this year's team echoed the sentiment and added:

I am very proud to have coached this fine group of individuals. Their performance in this competition reflected the team’s high level of preparation and resilience when faced with difficult positions to argue. We truly had a special team this year: three students with distinct backgrounds from three different continents came together and developed an unparalleled synergy. Their strong teamwork, along with their passion for air law and commitment throughout the academic year were key elements of our success this year. We hope to replicate this team-oriented approach when defending our title next year in Mexico City.

"Having studied at Leiden myself many years ago, I am delighted that we took part in the Leiden-Sarin International Air Law Moot Court Competition this year. We are very proud of the excellent performance of our team and coach. It stands as proof of the quality of our education and firmly underlines the IASL's position as the world's leading institution of air and space law " Interim Director, Prof. Donal Hanley said.

Congratulations and well done, Judith, Lana, Matt and René!

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