MAASTRICHT. “Two men fall in love and get married. They would live happily ever after if it was not for one cloud on the horizon: the unwillingness of the country they want to move to to recognize their marriage.” Four law students will compete in the finals of the European Law Moot Court Competition in Luxemburg on Friday 28 March. The case, which includes the recognition of a gay marriage in Europe, they know by heart by now. Observant sat in on one of the final training sessions.
“I have no comments on the presentation. It was very good, as usual. Do mind the timing, though, because you only have 15 minutes.” Assistant professor Sarah Schoenmaekers, one of the coaches, gives feedback to her pupil Eva van Ooij at the end of the training. For the past two hours Van Ooij and her fellow team members Pauline Melin, Myriam Douo and Vilma Imahaki have been practising their defence. For the umpteenth time. Since the beginning of the competition in autumn, they have been pondering over all kinds of questions. The fictitious case is about two men. They were married in EU member state Moita and would like to move to the ‘homeland’ of one of the two, EU country Brandoa. But Brandoa does not recognise gay marriages. On top of all that, one of the men has a son suffering from Down’s syndrome, who was adopted by the other man in Moita. But the adoption is not recognised in Brandoa either.
“An extremely sensitive subject,” says Schoenmaekers. “On a European judicial level there is no legislation that states that countries should or should not introduce gay marriages; it is up to the countries themselves. Some European countries accept it, others do not. There is the European Treaty, which promotes free movement of persons, goods and services. One could therefore wonder whether ‘not recognising’ gay marriages acts prohibitively towards people; after all, free movement is no longer possible,” Schoenmaekers explains.
Plaintiff versus defender: the two men versus the state of Brandoa. Eva van Ooij is standing tall, hands folded. She is projecting herself into the role of lawyer for the plaintive. In front of her is an enormous folder, filled with plastic covered files, marked in different colours. She looks straight at the ‘judges’, occasionally casting an eye on her text. The ‘judges’ today are a professor, an alumnus and the coaches Schoenmaekers and Alexander Hoogenboom. Maja Brkan, the third supervisor, is absent.
“We usually practise in the evenings,” says Schoenmaekers. “Since January we have been training three times a week. It is very intensive indeed. Every now and again we ask colleagues to help out. It is good to hear critical questions from different disciplines.” As the afternoon progresses it appears that most of the questions have already been posed before – “it couldn’t be any other way after so many practice sessions” – but the line of approach changes a little each time. Van Ooij is put through the wringer. She is gathering steam when suddenly a judge asks a question. Then another question, and another. She is clearly battling against time. At the end she wants to know if she can expect that many questions on Friday. “No,” is the somewhat reassuring answer.
Schoenmaekers: “It is not easy. The students have to convince the court of their arguments. At the same time they have to answer critical questions, and it all has to be done in 15 minutes.” On top of that, which is no sinecure, they need to have a good command of English and French.
The coaches are satisfied. To Van Ooij: “It’s much better, you are not avoiding our questions anymore.” That doesn’t mean that the students aren’t stuck for an answer every now and again. Such as Van Ooij, who in one particular instance reacts with a grin: “Well, that’s a good question my Ladyship,” meaning: ‘What are you talking about?’. When Pauline Melin from the defending party is asked how old the son is, she looks doubtingly towards her team members. “You have to know how old the boy is,” was the critical comment. At the end, the students are given homework. “Cases like these are being heard in the Court at the moment. Take a good look at them.”
Before they travel to Luxembourg, the group will have a dress rehearsal in the official costumes. Get the stilettos and gowns out of your wardrobes.
Active in Moot Court competition
The Maastricht Faculty of Law is active in various moot court competitions (simulations of legal procedures). Recently a team from Maastricht came third in the International Commercial Mediation Competition. Participation in another moot court competition, the Jessup International Law, was awarded the prize for ‘best memorials for the respondent’. At the European & International Tax Moot Court students achieved third place.
The European Law Moot Court Competition (ELMC) focuses on European Law. The Maastricht team will be up against Lund, Louvain and Michigan on Friday 28 March. They each won one of the four regional finals (Maastricht won in Portugal, team member Vilma Imahaki was nominated best representative of the European Commission). Initially - in the autumn - more than eighty teams submitted their written pleas; 48 teams were admitted to the regional finals.
Since 1997 Maastricht University has reached the finals nine times (this year will be the tenth time) in the ELMC in the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg. They won first prize five times.