The Oxford Moot: Welcome to the “Universal Court of Freedom of Expression”

By ECPMF staff
For the last decade, the University of Oxford has been nourishing a unique undertaking, the Price International Media Moot Court, one of the world’s largest moots and an intense tool to spread instruction in the role of speech in society and the building of values in an emerging generation of leaders across the world.

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The Price Moot Court’s objective is to train the brightest legal minds from around the world to become defenders of media freedom and to better understand the dynamic and complex legal issues involved in today’s transnational and technologically changing communication and media systems.

The roots of the Moot can be found in the pioneering work of the Council of Europe (and others) during the 1990s in reaching out to societies in political transition, building knowledge and expertise on the rule of law, and developing regional and international networks of specialists in communications and society.

The Oxford Moot works with more than 100 law schools internationally with an emphasis on cross-cultural contacts. It is built around a group of regional competitions in the Balkans, Africa, China, the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere. In other efforts, there have been annual competitions in Afghanistan and special efforts were made to include Iran, Bangladesh, South Sudan and other places struggling to define issues of speech and society.

Because of the Oxford Moot, students devote months learning about pressing media freedom issues, including hate speech, countering violent extremism, and protections against state interference. After the extensive research and study of national, regional and international case law to prepare for the regional competitions, teams that advance gather in Oxford, where they argue these cases before judges in a hypothetical “Universal Court of Freedom of Expression”.

The judges are practicing lawyers, judges, and other experts, who, themselves, gain knowledge about media issues. Through the competition, participants learn to connect these cases to real world events and threats to freedom of expression in their own countries.

The student participants have been enthusiastic about the experience, and for many it has opened educational and professional doors to media law. Sofia Cruz, who participated in the Moot first as a team member and later on as a coach for a team from the University of Sao Paolo, described her experience learning about media law through the Moot, saying “everything that we’re talking about at the Moot Court is in the newspapers”. She returned from the competition to take an internship with a law firm in Brazil that specialises in telecommunication where she continues to work as a lawyer.

Kisakye Julianna Izizinga, a participant from Uganda, returned from Oxford and embarked on a personal project entitled “Media Freedom vs National Security: Where is the Limit?.

Ahmed Khalifa, from Egypt, learned from the competition that there was a field involving communications. As an effective and persistent coach he helped create opportunities for his team members at the Thompson Reuters office in Cairo.

According to Andrea Ajibade, a coach for the University of Lagos team in Nigeria, their university had never considered media law issues before participating in the Moot, but now believes “media law should form a core component of all law curricula globally. There is a need for us to take media knowledge rights and awareness into the classrooms as well as to the judiciary.”

The Price Moot is now part of the new Bonavero Institute of Human Rights Law at Oxford. It has been directed and shaped over most of its ten year history by Dr. Nicole Stremlau, as part of her leadership as head of the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) at Oxford’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.

“The goal”, says Dr. Stremlau, who is also Research Professor at the University of Johannesburg, “has been to employ the Moot to have “a global impact on media law education and research, building “interest and capacity for freedom of expression law and advocacy in universities around the world.”

According to Dr. Richard Danbury, a member of the Moot’s Secretariat, those changes are visible. "The Moot has shaped media law clinics in Sarajevo and helped build a Center for Communications Governance in New Delhi. It supports the teaching of courses in law schools where no media law curricula previously existed. The programme has assisted alumni working on pro-bono cases such as the defence of imprisoned bloggers in Vietnam and Myanmar. The programme has also trained judges in places such as Egypt, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and India on media and internet law.”

Named after Monroe E Price, founder of Oxford’s PCMLP and long-time scholar in the area of media and society, the Moot has collaborated and gained support from key institutions such as the COE, the Office of the Representative for Freedom of the Media at the OSCE, and hub law schools throughout the world. Google and Facebook have provided financial and other support.

Active and retired judges at the European Court of Human Rights have participated. In the first international rounds, in 2008, an all-female team from the International Islamic University of Malaysia won the competition. In 2011 the University of Belgrade in Serbia was victorious. The tenth anniversary competition, in April 2017, saw 44 teams participate in the international rounds. Oxford and Singapore were the two finalists and the team from Singapore prevailed, winning for the third time in the history of the Moot.

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –