Moot Court: Where future lawyers sharpen court room skills: Mount Kenya University School of Law, Parklands Campus

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In this first of a series of articles focusing on the teaching of law in Kenyan universities, Lilian Wamuyu visited Mount Kenya University Law School and penned this report.

The training courtroom at Mount Kenya University School of Law is among the jewels that give the institution a distinctive glow. Holding moot courts at the facility sharpens students’ legal minds, and it is no wonder that when they go out for competitions, they shine. The most recent was the Africa Regional Round of the Network for International Law Students (NILS) Business and Human Rights Moot Court Competition held at Riara University.

The Parklands Law Campus was represented by three students, Esther Nyawera, Earnest Mwaura and Samuel Mwangi. The team qualified to participate in the final round of the competition at the Middlesex University in London, United Kingdom. NILS is an international non-profit organisation based in London. It is run by and for law students. It has organised the first ever arbitration moot court competition exclusively focusing on business and human rights, an area particularly relevant to the African context.

Speaking at an event to celebrate full accreditation of the MKU school of law by the Council of Legal Education, Ms Nelly Wamaitha noted, “we have an ICC model moot court which has helped our student to learn advocacy.” This claim is evident from the state of the art moot court facility that encourage law students to take part in regular mooting events among themselves as well as in moot competitions with students from other law schools across the country.

The facility can accommodate 100 people. It has installed ICT instruments to facilitate learning. They include a high resolution projector, computers, laptop portals, quality in-built output speakers, judges bench and comfortable mesh chairs. A paperless registry exists with five computers to enable learners file appropriate documents. Mooting forms a compulsory part of the undergraduate law programme.

The MKU ultra-modern moot court facility was established in the year 2010 to infuse simulated practical aspects of law and provide a platform within which the school natures problem solving skills, legal analysis, legal drafting, submissions and public speaking skills in learners.

Prior to the facility’s establishment, the School of Law integrated mooting as a teaching methodology in classes. “The school of law is strategically located in an autonomous campus in Parklands, close to the courts in the city of Nairobi. Therefore, students benefit from judicial attachments and academic visits. Eminent speakers such as Attorney General and professors from abroad occasionally visit our law school to intellectually equip students with legal skills and the art of advocacy,” remarked Prof Saha, Dean of MKU-SoL.

Since inception, the school has strategically participated in national, regional and international moot court competitions with excellent performance and acquisition of diverse awards as best debaters and orators. They include the Foreign Direct Investment International Arbitration Moot, Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Competition, Regional children Rights Moot Court Competition, All African Moot Court Competition and the International Jurist Commission Kenya section (ICJ competition) essay.

Others are the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition, Africa Regional Round of the Nils Business and Human Rights Moot Court Competition, the Extractive Baraza Moot Court Competition, the Insurance Debate, the inaugural Equally Now Moot Court Competition on Two Thirds Gender Rule, the Intervarsity Debate Challenge.

The campus has been privileged to host the prestigious Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Competition and Inter Varsity Moot Court Competition on international law and development.

It has also hosted high level guests, among them Hon Justice Patrick Kiage, Retired Justice Nicholas Ombija, Retired Judge Muga Apondi, Hon Theresia Nyangena and experts from UN Environment.

Mooting is an important stage event for law students since it delivers a practical and holistic approach to learning law application on hands-on legal scenarios. Participants take part in simulated court proceedings in a mock court exercise which involves carrying out research on an identified topic, analysing a problem, preparation of written submission, presentation of briefs and oral arguments. This involves two sides of a case submitting their arguments in the presence of a bench consisting of a single or multiple judges.

Moot court programs have been gaining prominence in schools of law within Kenyan Universities as law student aim to sharpen their legal skills, enhance legal research skills, practice communications skills, and learn to work or argue with their peers before joining actual practice work environment following their graduation.

Legal Clinic

The initiative to organize for public legal clinic by the MKU School of Law was borne by a need to give free legal service to the public as a way of paying it forward. This opportunity offers law students an opportunity to interact with members of the public on a broad legal issues. The initiative was launched in 2015 when the first Public Legal Clinic was held. The platform allows the citizens to receive valuable legal advice and assistance from practicing lawyers who are law lecturers as well as qualified law students from SoL.

The rationale behind the initiative is that disfranchised and vulnerable groups face great challenges in accessing justice – and they are many throughout the country. As such, the MKU Public Legal Clinics help fill that gap by providing free legal aid to these groups in the hope that they, too, can access quality legal services to protect their human rights.

The Public Legal Clinics offer law students the opportunity to sharpen essential practical skills and values, such as client counselling, critical thinking, legal research, legal analysis and professional responsibility. The clinics also offer the students a chance to gain practical experience while delivering much needed legal services as they come in contact with real clients. Simply put, these clinics offer the law student a moving picture of the current law practice.

So far, SoL has carried out Public Legal Clinics in Kibra, Dagoretti, Embakasi South, Mukuru kwa Njenga, Thika, Langata Women’s Prison and Nairobi Remand and, Allocation Maximum Prison. The last Public Legal Clinic was conducted at the Nairobi Remand and Allocation Maximum Prison in September 2018, where about 100 people in remand were given legal advice on their criminal cases by law students.

We plan to become an accredited legal aid provider in Kenya from the National Legal Aid Service (under the Legal Aid Act 2016). We also plan to extend our legal services to neighbouring counties. There is a recognised need to reach out beyond Nairobi. However, the process of application is still being deliberated on and developed in the draft regulations to the Legal Aid act,” Judy Nguru-Walla, lecturer and Coordinator, Public Legal Clinics, MKU-School of Law.

SoL is committed to providing quality legal services, being inclusive and respectful, and making a difference through the Public Legal Clinics. Speaking during the event to celebrate the School of Law full accreditation by the CLE, the founder of MKU, Prof.Simon Gicharu urged students to use their skills in bettering the lives of the most vulnerable members of the society, “Our hope is that we play a significant role in ensuring all disfranchised and vulnerable persons in Kenya are able to access quality legal services to protect and defend their human rights,” noted Prof. Gicharu. MKU SoL is committed to providing opportunities for Africans to study for law degrees without leaving the continent and this will unlock the potential of young people.