UBC takes the Gale Cup

Virtually every law school in Canada sent delegations to Toronto this past weekend to compete in the Lenczner Slaght CBA Gale Cup, a bilingual competition focused on criminal-constitutional law. The moot rounds are all judged exclusively by actual judges, ranging from the trial level all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I first became involved with the Gale Cup as a competitor in 2009, and as a coach the following year. This year I had the pleasure of attending again as an associate at Lenczner Slaght, host firm of the competition for the next five years.

The 60 competitors this year were asked to re-litigate the controversial 5-4 decision in R. v. Sinclair, which held that the Charter right to counsel did not include a right to have a lawyer present during police interrogations, closing the door to the importation of Miranda rights to Canada.

Terrence Sinclair was convicted of manslaughter after he confessed to killing Gary Grice following a five-hour interrogation by the police during which he was only permitted to speak with his lawyer for a total of six minutes. In 2010, a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held that Sinclair’s right to counsel was not violated. Justices Louis LeBel and Morris Fish delivered a forceful dissent, as did Justice Ian Binnie in separate reasons.

The super-Supreme Court of the Gale Cup reserved its decision on whether to overrule Sinclair. The final round was judged by SCC Justice Thomas Cromwell, Justice François Doyon of the Quebec Court of Appeal, and Justice Holly Beard of the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

In his keynote speech during the banquet, Cromwell discussed his long attachment to the Gale Cup, dating back to 1976 when he won the competition as a law student at Queen’s University. He praised the competitors for having the courage to make arguments before intimidating benches and in front of large audiences, and opined that “courageous advocacy is fundamental to the administration of justice.” In his view, all the competitors at the Gale Cup were winners.

But literally, the winners were the mooters from the University of British Columbia. The squad from the University of Toronto placed second, followed by the Université du Québec a Montréal and Windsor.

The big story from the Gale Cup was the tremendous success of the female competitors, who won all of the speaker awards (including, needless to say, the McLachlin Prize for Top Female Oralist.) Léa Brière and Vanessa Henri from UQAM took home the first and second place awards for best oralists in the preliminary rounds, and Lisa Jorgensen from UBC received the prize for best oralist in the final round.

UBC also swept the Peter Cory prizes for best factum, winning first place for their appellant factum and second place for their respondent’s. The respondents from Western University took third place.

As explained by our managing partner Peter Griffin at the reception for mooters, “mooting is the perfect opportunity for law students to learn by doing.” During the moot rounds themselves, judges put on stern faces, and treat the litigators-in-training to the harrowing questions they would ask senior Crown and defence counsel.

After the rounds are over, however, the judges reveal their true admiration for the skill and effort of the mooters, and join in the series of parties that follows.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the competition is that the argument and banquet takes place at Osgoode Hall, the seat of the Ontario Court of Appeal, and one of the great temples of criminal and Charter litigation. The traditions of litigation which might seem odd in some settings — the robes, the overcoats, and the archaic language — make sense in its ornate courtrooms.

I look forward to participating in next year’s Lenczner Slaght CBA Gale Cup, when a new batch of mooters takes on the challenge in Toronto in 2013.

Jon Laxer is a first-year associate at Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP in Toronto.

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