Dramatic twists as Cork and Belfast students compete in London moot

Dramatic twists as Cork and Belfast students compete in London moot

The London Irish Lawyers Association (LILA) narrowly avoided having to cancel a social mobility mooting competition for Irish students after staff at the Royal Courts of Justice generously stepped up to provide a venue.

The grand final of the Trailblazer mooting competition, aimed at identifying some of the best and brightest young legal minds across the island of Ireland, was due to take place in the historic Court One at the Old Bailey on Friday — but an electrical fire forced the building to shut and left the competition in limbo.

Judge Angela Rafferty KC, a LILA supporter and “original Derry Girl”, rallied the judiciary in London to find an alternative venue. Law firms Pinsent Masons and Kingsley Napley were also ready to provide a venue if no court could be made available.

The LILA committee was ultimately told on Thursday afternoon that staff at the Royal Courts of Justice were willing to stay late on Friday evening so that Court Five could be used for the moot.

The inaugural Trailblazer programme saw LILA work alongside the access offices of a number of universities across the four provinces of Ireland to establish a programme of workshops, talks and a mooting competition targeted at pupils with a passion for law and who met a number of socio-economic indicators (or whose school was a DEIS school).

The final teams, consisting of one university student and one secondary school pupil, flew in from Cork and Belfast, and were treated to a whirlwind tour of legal London on Friday, as well as a private tour of the Embassy of Ireland, before donning wigs and gowns to appear before Judge Rafferty and her usher for the evening, Mrs Justice McGowan, in a contested a bail application.

“Following fantastic advocacy from both teams, the decision was very finely balanced,” LILA said. Ultimately, however, bail was denied and the Cork team — Alyson O’Kelly-Lynch of University College Cork, and Chinedu Okonkwo of Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG — emerged the winners.

Jack Hughes of Ulster University, and Isabella Cox of North Coast Integrated College, were the brilliant runners-up.

The evening ended with a celebration party at Pinsent Masons’ offices, where attendees took in views of the London skyline from the 15th floor.

Special permission was given for the event to be photographed by Denis Minihane, staff photographer with the Irish Examiner, whose last London legal assignment was covering the release of the Birmingham Six from the Old Bailey in March 1991. He retires this Thursday.

Both the Access UCC PLUS Programme in University College Cork and the Widening Access Programme in Ulster University encouraged secondary and third level students to participate in the inaugural pilot initiative, with representatives of the access programmes also present at the event.

Dr Esther McGuinness, head of the School of Law at Ulster University, said: “We are delighted to have participated in the inaugural LILA Trailblazer programme and to have undergraduate student and pupil partner from North Coast Integrated College in the mooting final.

“This exciting initiative has provided a real world connected learning opportunity for students and pupils to explore a future career in a London-based law firm.”

Maeve Minihane, schools outreach co-ordinator at University College Cork, said: “This amazing experience will be something that our students will remember all their lives. The LILA team collectively were amazingly generous with their time, advice, encouragement and generosity of spirit.”

LILA said it would like to extend thanks to everyone who has supported the Trailblazer programme, and those who offered assistance when it became apparent that the Old Bailey would not re-open in time for the moot on Friday, including Lord Justice Dingemans, Judge Reid, Judge Karu, Lisa John, Laura Barnard and Jean McGarvey.

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