Osgoode tweets to victory

Osgoode Hall Law School has won the world’s first ever Twitter moot.

Students mooted the British Columbia Court of Appeal’s decision in West Moberly First Nations v. British Columbia (Chief Inspector of Mines). The case involves West Moberly’s struggle to protect its property and Burnt Pine caribou herd from First Coal Corp., which is seeking to set up a coal mine on its land. Osgoode’s team represented West Moberly. Teams from law faculties at the University of Victoria, Dalhousie University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Ottawa also participated in the moot.

So many viewers tuned in to the virtual moot hosted by West Coast Environmental Law on Feb. 21 that the Twitter feed became overwhelmed at one point, causing a brief technical delay.

Second-year University of Victoria law students Matthew Nefstead and Jenn Cameron won the People’s Choice award for their representation of the province of British Columbia.

They concede that the moot was stressful at times. “It was really challenging to get everything in in the time allotted, especially when the judges started asking questions,” says Nefstead.

They essentially had their tweets prepared, he says, but it was difficult to respond to questions that referred to specific paragraphs of cases within the 10-minute time limit they were given to present their arguments.

University of Calgary law professor and moot judge Kathleen Mahoney says she also felt constricted by the time limits.

“For the judges, too, it’s obvious you have to prepare your questions in advance and be able to modify them throughout the course of the argument because if you don’t, you don’t have enough time to think through what the student is saying and compose your question from scratch,” she says.

Nefstead and Cameron suggest that instead of having time restrictions, there should be a maximum number of tweets set. Such a limit would still compel mooters to be concise since a tweet can’t be more than 140 characters.

“Part of the idea behind the event was to force us to be extra concise, but I think there would be some room to add a little bit of extra time to allow the arguments to be flushed out a little better, especially to be able to respond to questions,” says Nefstead.

Mahoney proposes that mooters address the references in their factum, which is also limited to a maximum of two pages, rather than discuss them during the moot. “I think this kind of exercise will work best if the matter is just boiled down to the essential arguments where the issues clash and hear what the students have to say about that,” she says.

Along with the factum, some teams, including the University of Victoria’s, prepared a short video.

As to be expected, there was also some bantering during the moot. Mahoney says humor is acceptable but notes participants shouldn’t interrupt the other parties during their allotted time period. “I don’t think it should be permissible for students to jump in when others are doing their submissions because obviously when you’re so limited in time, that could be unfair,” she says. “So I think that should probably be something that would attract a penalty because it’s not like a free-for-all.”

But Cameron says Twitter makes it hard to put a stop to interruptions. “In a courtroom, the judges have control over the individuals. So they’re able to stop them before it becomes an interruption, but the nature of Twitter doesn’t really allow that kind of control.”

Mahoney, who had never used Twitter before, admits it was quite a challenge. Her daughter helped her set up an account and practise a bit before the moot. And now that she’s more familiar with it, she plans to tweet on a regular basis and maybe even use it as a teaching tool.

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