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Students argue human rights case in moot court

Published: 
Monday, April 23, 2018
Front row from left, Justices Betsy-Ann Lambert-Peterson, Ronnie Boodoosingh and Ricky Rahim. Back row, from left, Naparima Girls’ High School students Nirvana Maharaj and Vrishni Maharaj and Hillview College students Dylan Kowlessar and Satesh Singh. PICTURE WESLEY GIBBINGS

Naparima Girls’ High School came away winners of the UWI Faculty of Law Secondary Schools Human Rights moot court competition against Hillview College while Speyside High School won in a human rights-themed visual arts competition, last Saturday.

The competitions were hosted by the Law Faculty on the St Augustine campus and was part of a European Development Fund (EDF) project in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.

It was the culmination of weeks of coaching and preparation focused on training aspiring young advocates to use the law to support the rights of marginalised groups, and inspiring young artists to depict human rights-related themes. There was specific emphasis on the rights of the child.

In the moot, Form Four student Nirvana Maharaj, 16, and 14-year-old Form Three student Vrishni Maharaj successfully argued the case for the fictitious State of Socaland in response to a human rights case brought by the NGO, Speak Up, represented by lead counsel, Dylan Kowlessar —a 15-year-old Form Five student—and first former Satesh Singh, 13.

The applicants had argued that the State had been in breach of human rights law and international conventions in denying a 12-year-old blind student, who also lived in poverty and under violent conditions, the right to a place in regular school. He was also placed on a long waiting list for the school for the blind which was far away from his home.

When he eventually began a Braille programme at a nearby community centre he behaved badly in class and physically attacked another student. This led to his detention for two weeks in a jail cell which he shared with five adult prisoners on serious criminal charges.

In the end, a panel of judges including actual High Court Justices Ronnie Boodoosingh and Ricky Rahim, together with Family Court Judge, Betsy-Ann Lambert Peterson ruled for the State and lauded the efforts of all four advocates.

Special tribute was paid to volunteer attorneys, faculty and law students who coached and briefed the students ahead of Friday’s preliminaries which featured ten schools from around the country.

Mataffie Pascall of Speyside Secondary School came away with top honours in the Visual Arts component of the competition with Raeesah Ali of Naparima Girls’ High School placing second and Ayeesha Jaffrally, also of Naparima Girls’ High School, placing third.

Faculty Dean, Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine described the simulated case argued by the young advocates as “more than just a moot” and was part of an effort to sow the seeds for more intense efforts to promote the upholding of human rights.

Belle-Antoine said she looked at the young “to be the change agents that we need to turn things around.”

Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts was at hand to witness the proceedings and to assist in the distribution of awards.

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