UOW’s new criminal advocacy competition an Australian first

A young couch-surfing Illawarra drug dealer by the name of James Jennings who exists only on paper will be remembered for his role in UOW’s inaugural 2019 Morrisons Criminal Advocacy Competition.

Four students out of a field of 32 were left standing in the recent moot court finale to convince the competition judges to either jail the wayward teen or allow him to walk free.

The ground-breaking competition, sponsored by Morrisons Law Group as the focus of its partnership with the University of Wollongong, is the brainchild of former law student and partner in the firm, Matt Ward.

UOW Criminal Advocacy Competition runners up Analise Ritchie and Monica Naumovski (left) and winners Crystal Gluch-Martin and Vanja Pjevalica (right) with judges Graeme Morrison, Carolyn Davenport SC, and Matt Ward.

“All of the other law competitions at Australian universities involve complex areas of law mainly in Supreme Court or High Court appeals,” says Mr Ward.

“My aim was to offer students the chance to test their legal and communication skills by either prosecuting or defending a routine case of the type they could easily face straight out of university.

“My first case was a simple mention but it took me hours to prepare and involved loads of stress and nervous shaking – and in the end it took no more than 15 – 20 seconds,” he recalls with a laugh.

Mr Ward says he and his senior partner and the firm founder, Graeme Morrison want to give back to UOW by making the competition an annual event.

“The University is doing great things and we want to support it and help it become a centre of excellence for young criminal advocates,” he says.

The competition gets a resounding tick from winners Vanja Pjevalica and Crystal Gluch-Martin whose defence of the fictitious Mr Jennings attracted high praise from the judges.

For Ms Gluch-Martin, the experience has firmed up her choice of career path.

“I wanted to see if I enjoyed advocacy because not all lawyers are advocates and not all lawyers should be advocates. It showed me the more you practice, the more polished you become,” she says.

Ms Pjevalica says she initially had doubts about humanising her submission by appealing for compassion for the young offender.

“The judges’ praise for that strategy was the most constructive feedback I got throughout the competition because it taught me to trust my own instincts.”

Runners up who prosecuted the case were Analise Ritchie ad Monica Naumovski who took away $600 from the $1800 prize pool.

The judging panel comprised of Mr Morrison and Mr Ward as well as Sydney barrister Carolyn Davenport, SC, who all gave competitors feedback on legal aspects of their submissions as well as the strength and clarity of their arguments.

“It was really encouraging to see the transformation in the students over the course of the four-week competition in terms of confidence and court room skills,” says Mr Morrison.

UOW’s Dean of Law, Professor Colin Picker described the partnership with Morrisons Law Group as of great benefit to the university.

“Through this competition our students get to meet practitioners and experience real life litigation and court room practice with excellent professional feedback from specialists in criminal law,” says Professor Picker.

“It really complements our curriculum and adds an extra layer of excitement and expertise to moot court exercises.”

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