Oxford Hosts 2014 Varsity Roman Law Moot

The eighth annual Oxford v Cambridge Clifford Chance LLP Roman Law Moot Court Competition was held in Oxford on 16 June. Representing Oxford in the customary double moot before Regius Professors of Civil Law, David Ibbetson (Cambridge) and Boudewijn Sirks (Oxford) were Yizhen Clark (New College), Brian Lee (Christ Church), Shaun Tan (St Edmund Hall) and Nicholas Wong (St Peter’s). In one of the closest competitions in recent years, the home team was narrowly edged out by Cambridge but Yizhen Clark was honoured with the Best Oralist Prize.

The libellus focused on events in the province of Africa, recently liberated from Vandal Rule in ad 534. To help re-establish the grain trade, the Office of the Praetorian Prefect persuaded a Constantinopolitan banker, Drago, to advance credit to traders and shippers at special rates of interest, to be backed by guarantees from the Imperial fisc in the event of losses sustained by reason of vis maior or piracy.

Drago’s local agent in Justinianopolis (formerly Hadrumentum), Barrosus, advanced moneys to the local Libyan tribal chief Illecadaphi and a shady transporter named Maeriscus. Exactly what happened to the ships and the grain was difficult for the iudices to determine, with notable discrepancies between the volumes allegedly loaded and the capacity of the ships, and conflicting accounts about whether the crew of one ship was truly lost in a storm or, as members of the slave crew admitted under … questioning … had simply thrown the shipper’s agent overboard and turned to piracy along the coast of Italy.

Careful analysis of legal issues about exceeding a mandate, unlawful interest rates, fenus nauticum and mutuum, fraud, vis maior, piracy and contractual standards of care was expertly blended with more Ciceronian rhetoric about dodgy traders, naïvely optimistic Lusitanian agents, conspiracies and shipwrecks in an entertaining and illuminating pair of moots.

The Faculty congratulates all the students who took part in this year’s Moot and, in particular, the winning Cambridge team and Best Oralist Yizhen Clark from Oxford. Special thanks are due to long-standing competition sponsors, Clifford Chance LLP, for their interest in, and support of, a contest that every year attracts some of the most talented first-year law students from both Universities.

Dr Benjamin Spagnolo
Christ Church