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Class Reunions

Keith Han '11; Chong Yonghui '11; Prof Lim Lei Theng '92; Elsa Goh '12; Sarah Hew '12

The 2011 NUS Jessup Team has done NUS Law School proud by reaching the Semi-Finals of the 2011 Philip C Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. Chong Yonghui ’11 recalls the team’s experiences at the competition.

It felt like an endless six months of incessant research, excruciating practice sessions and a downright torturous lack of sleep leading up to this day. And yet it seemed that all of a sudden, it was time for us to fly to Washington DC to compete in the international leg of the Jessup Competition. As Sarah Hew ’12, Elsa Goh ’12, Keith Han ’11 and I stood in line at Changi Airport waiting to check in our luggage, we felt equal parts excitement and trepidation. In the words of a great man: “This is it,” (Michael Jackson, if you were wondering), and we were determined to put up the performance of our lives.

This year’s Jessup Problem involved public international law (specifically a state’s right of self defense against non-state actors), international humanitarian law, international human rights law and finally an esoteric Convention relating to international corruption.

For the Applicants: Mr. Chong Yonghui ’11 (me), a final year student in Law School who thoroughly enjoys international humanitarian law and believes whole-heartedly in wearing comfortable attire (i.e. is never immaculately dressed); and Ms. Sarah Hew ’12, a third year student who towers over her peers (literally) and also our resident writer for the memorials. Representing the Respondents: Mr. Keith Han ’11, another final year student in law school, handled the issue of self-defense and unlike me, could not be found in anything other than spiffy suits (I honestly don’t think we ever caught him in a pair of jeans); and Ms. Elsa Goh ’12, also a third year student and resident Law Queen (yes, this was but one of her innumerable assets), who believed vehemently in women’s rights and would put forth her arguments with quiet conviction.

The Team outside the White House, Washington DCAfter a grueling twenty-two hour flight, containing more airplane food than anyone should reasonably have to endure, we were finally at our destination – Washington. Before our weary, jet lagged minds were fully cognizant of our surroundings, the preliminary rounds had begun. I would like to pin our excellent performance through the preliminary rounds down to our unshakeable resolve … although I suspect the copious amounts of vitamins, orange juice and coffee we consumed daily probably played a role as well.

In the course of facing Poland, China, India and Cyprus, we quickly fell back into the familiar and gruelling routine of practice, practice and … you guessed it, more practice. Countless hours were spent rehearsing and refining our arguments – How can I put this particular point across better? Which arguments best respond to our opponent’s memorial? Do these pants make me look fat?

The thrill of going before a new bench of judges every round to make our submissions against different opponents from all over the globe never dissipated. While it was exhausting, it was also exhilarating. This was also where all the extensive training with our very dedicated coach, Prof Lim Lei Theng ’92, seniors, and numerous practitioners in Singapore who had kindly given us their time and advice, really paid off. Questions launched by judges were answered deftly, submissions were made succinctly and rebuttals were delivered mercilessly (more or less); and with that we were through the preliminary rounds, having won each and every one of them.

The pressure really started to mount in the rounds of 32 and 16. A loss here would mean that we would be instantly out of the competition. There was no margin for error and if we got through our round in the morning, we would have a mere three hours to prepare for the next round in the afternoon. The pace of the competition picked up considerably - the judges were asking more incisive questions; our opponents were even more persuasive; and we were running out of coffee and juice. On the bright side, by now almost every avenue of questioning that could be thrown at us had been explored, and we were fluent enough with our submissions to launch into them at the literal toss of a coin. Time passed, rounds happened, and after securing consecutive victories against Georgia and Belgium, we found ourselves in the quarter-finals. We achieved a resounding win against Argentina and suddenly found ourselves one step away from a place in the finals – a mere round away from having a chance at lifting the Jessup Cup.

At the semi-final we lost the coin toss and our opponents, the University of Columbia, picked the Applicant side. As Respondents, it was imperative that we remained vigilant throughout our opponent’s submissions – continuously attempting to read the bench and discerning where their concerns lay, while simultaneously searching for the weak points in our opponent’s argument and formulating the best way of weaving our rebuttals seamlessly into our own submissions. Their allotted 45 minutes flew by and it was our turn to step up to the plate. More time passed, while the bench launched salvo after salvo of questions at us, mirroring the barrage that they had hit our opponents with. Never losing our momentum, we answered to the best of our abilities, ruthlessly advancing our case, strategically giving ground only on the points which were not particularly essential to our arguments.

And then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. We could breathe again. We had done our best and there would be no regrets. As you can probably guess by my tone, after some intense deliberation, the judges returned to announce that we had lost – by a single point. The eventual winners were the University of Sydney, which had been ranked first after the preliminary rounds.

And thus our journey ended with the semi-finals. We had been hoping to return the coveted Jessup Cup back to NUS for the 5th time, but ended up finishing 1 round short of the World Finals. As my team-mate Keith summed up: What we brought back instead were coveted memories – of great company, camaraderie and many new friendships, but most importantly, an appreciation of our good fortune of having worked together as a team, together with Lei Theng.

To quote Keith, “After months of stress, the Jessup journey is over – but what we have, will hopefully, last much longer. Thanks Chong, Elsa and Sarah for being part of my best law school experience, and leading protagonists in the fond stories I will be telling in the years to come.”