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Gale Cup a rite of passage in many legal careers

Nary a moot point at Canada’s oldest student law competition.


In the winter semester of 1976, Thomas Cromwell, a Queen’s law student, took the train to Toronto to compete in the Gale Cup Moot, the then two-year-old event where law students from Canadian universities re-argue a controversial Supreme Court ruling in a criminal-constitutional case.

Mr. Cromwell, whose undergraduate degree was music, wasn’t sure when he began the journey that he was suited to law, but after winning the two-day competition, decided otherwise. Four decades later, Mr. Cromwell is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and often sits on the three-judge panel that adjudicates the annual Gale Cup Moot.

The cup is named for former Ontario chief justice George Gale, and the national finals take place every February at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, seat of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

While most “mooters” don’t end up on the high court, such simulated courtroom appeal hearings have become a rite of passage in many successful legal careers. “A high proportion of Supreme Court law clerks have demonstrated excellence in mooting,” says Marilyn Pilkington, senior scholar and former dean of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School who won the Gale in its first year.

“It’s a very good learning experience,” says Ms. Pilkington. “It’s the difference between studying anatomy in class and actually doing surgery. There’s nothing like taking a whole case, combing through it and developing an analysis that supports your position while taking account of the other side.”

In the four decades since its debut as a unilingual, Ontario-centric event, the Gale Cup has expanded to include 19 of the country’s 21 law faculties and both official languages. Each faculty’s team comprises four students, two arguing for the appellant and two for the respondent.

Mooters present both written and oral arguments. Jon Laxer, an associate at the Toronto law firm Lenczner Slaght, represented the University of Toronto in 2009 and now helps organize the Gale finals. As a mooter, he found having to draft a factum suitable for judges was an especially useful experience. He also learned, when making an oral submission, to slow his delivery “so the judges, as they write down what you’re saying, can keep up with you.”

The teams last February re-litigated the 2012 Supreme Court ruling Regina v N.S., which dealt with whether a Muslim woman could testify against her alleged assailant while wearing a niqab (a veil covering most of her face). The court’s ruling tried to balance the victim’s freedom of religion with the accused’s right to a fair trial. The winners were from Université de Sherbrooke.

The Gale Cup Moot is now one of a dozen or so Canadian advocacy competitions for law students, including the Laskin Moot (for constitutional and administrative law), the Willms & Shier Environmental Law Moot, the Kawaskimhon National Aboriginal Law Moot and the Davies Canadian Corporate/Securities Moot.

In the fall, each moot selects a legal judgment to be re-litigated. The intra-faculty tryouts follow for students aiming for the national finals and, in some cases, the international level; winners of the Gale Cup Moot compete in the Commonwealth Law Moot, held every two years.

In 2011, Lenczner Slaght and the Canadian Bar Association began a five-year sponsorship of the competition, which was renamed the Lenczner Slaght/CBA Gale Cup Moot.

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