UCT law students ace intervarsity competition

Yuri Behari-Leak

Two UCT students have come out tops in an online intervarsity competition.

Law students Justin Winchester, 22, and Yuri Behari-Leak, 21, emerged victorious at this year’s Kate O’Regan Intervarsity Moot Competition.

Aspiring young lawyers from across the country compete in the challenge.

This year it was held online because of Covid-19, and the theme was international criminal law. Participants had to consider whether the covert forces behind the abduction and murder of anti-apartheid activists were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Students from the University of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch University, the University of Fort Hare, the University of Johannesburg, Rhodes University and the University of the Free State took part.

Yuri and Justin took dual honours: they were the overall winners, and Yuri took the “best speaker” award. Another team from UCT, Kudzaishe Mukunga and Delela Ndhela, made it to the semi-finals, as did two Stellenbosch University teams.

Justin and Yuri said they were still riding the high of their win and having been adjudicated by judges Dikgang Moseneke, Albie Sachs, Vincent Saldanha, David Unterhalter, Ashraf Mahomed, Lee Bozalek and UCT alumna and former Constitutional Court judge Kate O’Regan, who the competition is in honour of.

“It was one thing to say that we won,” said Justin, “but it was quite another to say that the panel of judges who decided in our favour were the same legal titans whose judgments we read and whose work we admire in law school.”

Yuri said it was awe-inspiring and humbling to have mooted in front of four former Constitutional Court judges.

“It was almost surreal having these exceptional Justices, whose case judgments I have studied and analysed for nearly two years at law school, asking me legal questions.”

Yuri said the win was gratifying given the long hours and late nights Justin and he had spent drafting their heads of arguments and practising their oral arguments.

Justin said: “I wanted to represent UCT well and make myself proud. With that pressure, I often got the feeling that I was doing something wrong, or that I had missed the point of the case, or that I was too unprepared. But when the day of the competition finally arrived, I was able to present my case confidently. I answered the questions thrown at me.”

For Yuri, it opened his eyes to a future in the legal profession.

“My participation was affirming and showed me that there is a potential future in the legal profession for me, perhaps as an advocate.

The competition showed me how important it is for young people to take an interest in human rights and social justice. It boosted my self-efficacy, confidence and my sense of belonging in the university’s legal community.”

Learning has changed dramatically since lockdown and the students will finish the rest of the year online.