William & Mary at The Hague

by Guest Blogger Christopher Bettis

I had the privilege of being on William & Mary’s team for the ICLN International Criminal Court Trial Competition in The Hague.  Having won the ICC Moot Court Competition at Pace Law School in January, we were at the finals in April.  This tournament was a truly unique opportunity to compete with judges and law students from around the world.  The nations represented at the tournament included Canada, Australia, Ghana, Nigeria, Japan, Hungary, Brazil, China, and India.  Discussing and arguing matters of international law becomes a different experience entirely when you are making your argument in The Hague before judges who have made their careers in the various international tribunals throughout the city.  The entire experience combined top notch competition, great experiences in one of the great European cities, and enlightening interactions with lawyers and law students from across the globe.

Competitors at The Hague

Since this was an ICC-based Moot Court competition, the competition revolved around international criminal law.  The legal and policy concerns that come up in such a competition may have seemed somewhat abstract when we argued them in White Plains, New York last January.  Now, however, we were arguing them in The Hague, surrounded by the courts and tribunals that hear the cases arising out of Rwanda, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, and the former Yugoslavia.  It is one thing to read these court decisions in Williamsburg; it’s another thing entirely to be across the street.

Being one of only four American teams at this tournament was a fascinating experience.  Much about the international criminal regime can seem odd to an American law student or lawyer’s eyes: the various ad hoc tribunals, the mix of common law and civil law traditions and procedures, the at-times convoluted lines of of authority and relationship with bodies such as the UN, the relative newness of much of the case law, and even the courts themselves.  The result can be a bit disorienting as one tries to adjust to so much seeming familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.  Against this backdrop are the broad differences between how things are done in America and in continental Europe, a particularly relevant consideration when the majority of the judges at the tournament are from continental Europe.  Trying to navigate the differences between how things are done in Europe as opposed to the United States was the source of both many of the tournament’s challenges and its most amusing moments.

Meeting law students from across the world was another highlight of the trip: comparing experiences, seeing The Hague together, learning about what it means to be a lawyer and to be part of the profession in other countries.  These experiences outside of the rounds were just another part of why this was such a great tournament.

Hague river