From the preliminary rounds, tucked away in the historic Brasenose College, to the Grand Final, which filled the University Church last Saturday (5 November), the quality of mooting in the Herbert Smith Freehills Oxford Disability Mooting Championship was second to none. The moot problem, as it invariably does every year in this annual competition, captured the spirit of the Championship and why it is so important that all members of the Oxford Community – undergraduates, graduates, academics and members of the public alike – engage with the important intersection of issues faced by people with disabilities and the effects of the law. The issues of law on appeal in this year’s competition were about equal access to education for people with disabilities.
A highly distinguished judging panel consisted of The Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini QC, former Lord Advocate of Scotland and current Principal of St Hugh's College; Professor Anne Davies, Dean of the Faculty of Law; Mr John Bowers QC, Principal of Brasenose college; and Mr Ian Gatt QC, Head of the Advocacy Group at Herbert Smith Freehills. This esteemed Grand Final Bench played the part of the Court of Appeal and thoroughly tested the intricacies and underlying principles in the competitors’ reasoning. After much agonising on the part of the judges, the winners of this year’s HSF Oxford Disability Mooting championship were Katie Ratcliffe (Merton) and Thomas Foxton (St Peter's), with Samuel Dayan and Mathew Hoyle the accomplished runners up, from St John’s College. Lead Counsel for the Championship Winning team, Katie Ratcliffe, on participating in the competition:
Through competing, my eyes were opened to the challenges involved in establishing genuinely inclusive spaces for people with disabilities. It was a privilege to take part in such an inspiring event.
Following the Grand Final of the Mooting Championship, a captivating Conversazione on the theme 'Disabled people and employment: rights protection, career progression and fulfilling potential’ engaged the panel and the audience in a broader discussion of issues faced by people with disabilities. Panelists included Amar Latif, award-winning entrepreneur and founder of Traveleyes; Niall Strawson, Accessibility Advisor for the University of Oxford and conservation biologist; Sarah Hewitt, a Director at Research Autism and former Telecoms account manager turned law student; and were chaired by the inimitable Councillor Marie Tidball, Oxford City’s Mental Health Champion. The points of discussion probed the issues affecting people with disabilities in the context of employment; what the Government and employers should be expected to do about them and how everyone can be an agent of progressive change in closing the employment gap for people with disabilities.
The feeling of engagement with issues that affect people with disabilities – that perhaps one hasn’t been exposed to before - and the resulting desire to bring about change permeate this entire Championship and they are what makes this competition, in particular, so special. Not only did the day’s proceedings evince a supreme quality of mooting, it exposed participants, judges, and audience members alike to new ideas and perspectives on the important intersection of law with disability. It is that which the audience and participants will take away with them, to ponder over under the dreaming spires of Oxford.
Oliver Dowie, Wadham College