Redhill High School from Johannesburg has won this year’s National Schools Moot Court Competition. The annual competition, which is in its third year, was held from 9 to 11 August. The semi-final round was held at the University of Pretoria (UP) and the finals were held at the Constitutional Court.
The final round was presided over by Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Dikgang Moseneke; Justices of the Constitutional Court Edwin Cameron and Johann van der Westhuizen; Director of the Foundation for Human Rights, Yasmin Sooka and Professor of law and Director of the Centre for Child Law at UP, Ann Skelton.
All secondary schools in the country were invited to enter a team of two learners who were given a case study involving a constitutional issue, since the competition is aimed at creating greater awareness of the Constitution. This year’s case study was of a learner from Egoli High School, Nadia September, who fell pregnant. The school’s policy stipulates that she can be allowed back at school only a year after her pregnancy. The father of her child is also a learner at the school and was allowed to continue with his education.
Learners from participating schools originally wrote two short essays setting out the opposing sides of the case. The essays were sent for evaluation and the best essay writers participated in the provincial rounds.
This year, 290 teams entered the essay round. Nine teams from each province participated in the provincial oral rounds (in total 81 teams), with 37 of them making it to the semi-finals. Redhill High School’s Samuel Musker (17) and Kate Dewey (16) who were the applicants, went up against Crawford College La Lucia’s Caton Schutte (16) and Tharin Pillay (16) to win the title.
Ms Schutte, who is in grade 11, told De Rebus that she was very honoured to have made it to the final round as her team had had tough competitors. She said that she was definitely going to study law after matric. ‘I have learnt a lot about the Constitution, South African law and also about myself and other people. I have grown so much through this competition,’ she said.
Mr Musker who is also in grade 11, told De Rebus that the competition was a ‘fantastic experience’. ‘There are many advocates who have never presented in front of such a calibre of judges like we have,’ he said. Mr Musker said that the reason he entered the competition was because he has always been interested in this kind of competition and that, since he was an avid debater, the moot court competition was a great way to extend his debating skills.
He added that he was considering studying law after high school. Mr Musker said that he has learnt a lot about law during the competition. He said: ‘Essentially everything I know about South African law I learnt through this competition. I started off with basically no knowledge [of law] so it has been a real learning curve.’
Grade 10 pupil Kate Dewey said that she enjoyed the experience. She said that she has a passion for debating, hence her joining the competition. ‘I have gained a lot more faith in the justice system of South Africa [through the competition],’ she said.
Mr Pillay, who is also in grade 11, stated that it was an honour to present argument at the Constitutional Court. He said that his love of debating inspired him to enter the competition. ‘I have learnt just how deep the law runs and also, although we live in a country rife with crime and corruption, how just our Constitution is,’ he said.
In deciding the winners, Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke said that there was a split decision on the Bench. He said four justices said the policy was unconstitutional and should therefore be struck down, while one of the justices said that the policy should be kept.
After the announcement of the winners Ms Dewey said that she was excited to have won. ‘We are very honoured to have been judged by people of such stature and to have spoken against such a challenging opposition,’ she said.
Mr Musker said that he was ‘very happy’ to have won. He said: ‘I feel great. We went into a lot of depth in terms of discussing the issues involved. He added that the competition was very important to South Africa as a whole as there was no point in having a great Constitution on paper and never seeing that Constitution in real life. ‘I think it is up to us, as young people in the country, to value the Constitution and to create that transition from paper to reality and to pay attention to problems and issues facing us children because the case we were talking about today was something that really affect us. This competition is a great platform for allowing that kind of thought and dialogue. It has been a really fantastic experience,’ he said.
The Justice Department’s Deputy Minister John Jeffery delivered a speech at the end of the competition. He said he was very impressed with the quality of arguments and confidence of the participants.
Deputy Minister Jeffery noted that the bedrock of South Africa’s democracy was the Constitution that was informed by the values of social interdependence and ubuntu. ‘It takes cognisance of our divided past and it is viewed as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world’, he said.
Deputy Minister Jeffery said that the Constitutional Court had the final say on the interpretation of the Constitution. ‘The reason we have so many levels of courts is – as you have seen from the split decision in the moot court judgment today – because judges can hold different views on a matter. The Constitutional Court hears a case and takes a decision en banc, which means all of them, or at least nine of the 11 judges, sitting together,’ he said.
Deputy Minister Jeffery said that Constitutional Court judgments have been far-reaching and have made a significant impact on various aspects of the daily lives of ordinary South Africans. He added that if socio-economic rights are not accessible to people, then the better life for all people, envisaged in the Constitution, will simply not be achievable. ‘In our present society where poverty and inequality is a reality, the inclusion and enforcement of socio-economic rights is vital,’ he said.
According to Deputy Minister Jeffery human rights law is a vibrant, ever-changing field of study and not simply a list of empty promises on paper. He added that it is a real and practical subject that has a direct impact on the way people live their day-to-day lives. ‘It is dynamic and adapts to meet the ever-changing needs and demands of our society,’ he said.
In conclusion, Deputy Minister Jeffery said: ‘I wish to take this opportunity in congratulating the winners of this competition and all of you who have participated. I hope to one day see you on the Bench of the Constitutional Court, perhaps as the future chief justice of South Africa, or as legislative drafters in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, state prosecutors, state law advisers or human rights lawyers.’
The moot court competition is an initiative by the universities of Venda, Western Cape and Pretoria, as well as the Constitutional Literacy and Service Initiative and the South African Human Rights Commission in partnership with the Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development and Basic Education and the Foundation for Human Rights.
The best speaker was Tharin Pillay and the best essays were received from Elmé Ravenscroft and Sunelda Erasmus from Hoërskool Rustenburg and Astrid Roman and Kudzanai Mavetera from Sol Plaatje Secondary School. Both these schools are in the North-West province.