New Zealand Law Society - Law student’s advocacy skills takes out top prize

Law student’s advocacy skills takes out top prize

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AUT law student Abhijit Desai has beaten off 23 competitors to win the 2017 Sentencing Advocacy Competition.

The contest, which is presented by the Ministry of Justice and the New Zealand Bar Association, provides an opportunity for law students to learn how the sentencing process works and to develop their advocacy skills by appearing before judges of the Auckland High Court.

Abhijit Desai

Competitors received a fact scenario of a crime committed by a fictional offender, and were allocated a role as prosecution or defence. Adopting courtroom etiquette and attire, they made submissions to a High Court Judge and responded to questions from the bench. The aim was to persuade the judge to impose a sentence that is not only appropriate, but most advantageous to their client.

Getting to the final involved making it through the preliminary rounds and a semi-final. 24 participants - 16 of them from the University of Auckland, four from AUT and four from the University of Waikato, were whittled down to eight and then to two.

The final round of the competition was open to the public and held at the Auckland High Court.

“The competition tested my advocacy skills, both oral and written, and challenged my understanding of sentencing principles and their practical application. It exposed me to courtroom advocacy in a unique way”, says Mr Desai.

His opponent in the final was Honor Kerry, of the University of Auckland and a Chapman Tripp summer clerk.

“It's fantastic to test yourself against some of the best law students in the country and to receive positive feedback from the judges,” says Mr Desai. “For me the win is a recognition of the fact that AUT has developed an incredible criminal law teaching team that puts its students in good stead for the future.”

The judges were impressed with the thought and skill on display throughout the competition; with Justice Heath saying that he would be happy to have either of the two finalists appear in his court for a real sentencing.

“We are very proud of Abhijit and what he has achieved. He was one of the team that was placed in the recent ICC Asia Pacific Commercial Mediation competition. It is very gratifying to see our students doing extremely well,” says Professor Warren Brookbanks.