City University (CityU) staved off a fierce challenge from 13 other teams to win the International Alternative Dispute Resolution Mooting Competition 2011 last week in Hong Kong. The competition, which started last year, was organised by CityU's School of Law, the China International Economic Trade Arbitration Commission and Columbia Law School. It was designed to engage students in arbitration and mediation, two key areas of dispute resolution. In arbitration, the parties seek to resolve their dispute outside the courts. They submit the dispute to one or more arbitrators who hear their arguments and decide the issue. Mediation is a form of settlement negotiation helped by a neutral third party. 'Hong Kong is moving towards mediation and our moot is tied up with this development,' says Rajesh Sharma, assistant professor of CityU's School of Law. 'We also aim to promote awareness of mediation by organising this moot in Hong Kong.' As part of the latest civil justice reform, the secretary of justice has proposed mediation to become the mandatory process for commercial dispute resolution. Each university team competed in two categories from August 7 to 13. In each round of the knockout competition, two students in each team were first engaged in arbitration followed by mediation. At the end of the arbitration hearing, the two students divided their duties at mediation, with one acting as the client and the other as attorney or legal counsel. A third member from each team served as an arbitrator and mediator. They were assessed separately from students who acted as clients and attorneys. Members of the winning team, who argued the case in the final, were Karen Ngai Wing-nga and Tereza Gao Shang, third-year bachelor of laws (LLB) students studying at CityU. The runners-up from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, were Ashleigh Boyce, a fourth-year student studying LLB and bachelor of arts (politics), and Liam Nicholls, a fourth-year student of LLB and bachelor of commerce. Darren Jackson of Columbia Law School in New York was named the best mediator. Li Bing of China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing was runner-up. Kumar Ramanathan, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association and one of the judges, says the champions excelled in their teamwork and were very smooth in their arguments. 'Their preparation was excellent. It was reflected when they fielded questions from the judges which were outside their scripts. They responded spontaneously and directly.' Another judge, Dr Bruno Zeller, says the technical quality of the finalists was of world standard. 'They did well in their oratory, presentation and their attempts to convince the arbitration and mediation panels. The finalists would do as well as a lot of barristers in actual court [proceedings].' The finalists stood out because they were more nimble at dealing with unexpected questions and demonstrated their ability to think on their feet, notes judge Brian Gibson, dean of international and comparative programmes at Columbia Law School. He says: 'There was a marked improvement in the oral advocacy skills of all teams, even though English is not the medium of instruction or primary language of some teams.' Gibson says the finalists can further improve their ability to come up with compelling arguments that a tribunal or judge might not necessarily anticipate. 'Although both teams were creative, there is always a challenge in mooting that goes beyond the obvious to set oneself apart,' he says, adding that students and lawyers can enhance their creativity through practice and drilling with different attorneys and practitioners to get exposure to different ways of thinking and approaches to problems. Ramanathan says the teams were not used to interruptions during arguments and were sometimes taken off track. Yet, with continuous practice and mooting, he believes the students will improve. Norris Yang, a professional mediator who performed mediation in the final, suggests the finalists emphasise less on the legal rights in mediation. 'While rights can only be determined by the arbitrator or by the judge, mediation is about collaboration where both sides work towards a solution,' says Yang, a partner of Boughton Peterson Yang Anderson and an executive director at ADR International, a company that provides mediation services. One of the key features of this moot was that local arbitrators and mediators were generous in their feedback to the students, says Dr Vernon Nase, an associate professor of CityU's law school. 'They gave the students a lot of guidance on the skills associated with mediation, for instance, and some of the steps they can consider taking in the future,' the competition director says.