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Lachs spat split: Is this solar system big enough for two Space Moots?

Mooting Premier League 2010-11 - MPL2
Mooting Premier League 2010-11 - MPL2

“If blackening of one’s name is the price for there to be a proper space law moot court competition, then I shall pay it,” declared former Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Asia Pacific regional organiser Ricky Lee in an fiery public statement. A little while later he set up a rival space law moot promising to eclipse the original. Legally India’s team MPL looks behind the scenes of the spat and the future of the Manfred Lachs and other space law competitions.

In 1999 Dr Ricky Lee became a member of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and was appointed Asia Pacific regional organiser of the fledgling Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition, holding the first Asia Pacific regional qualification rounds to the world finals in 2000.

Over the years, Lachs became a fixture on the top-tier Asian mooting circuit as global participation grew and Indian law schools celebrated continuing successes; most recently NLSIU Bangalore won the world finals in 2009 and finished second last year. In Legally India’s Mooting Premier League’s second season, Lachs is listed as a prestigiousfirst-tier Global Championship moot alongside the Jessup and Vis competitions.

Alongside Lachs, Australia-based Lee rapidly became a household name to Indian law students for his commitment to the country and the Asia-Pacific region’s mooting culture.


But on 12 August 2010 Lee resigned, ostensibly over the appointment of a co-chair to the organising committee, disagreements with IISL president Tanja Masson-Zwaan, as well as the perceived sidelining of regional organisers by the organising committee in amending their charter. On top of that, Lee claims that IISL did not reimburse the additional expenses of organising the Asia Pacific Regional Rounds that he had often paid for out of his own pocket to subsidise teams from Asian developing countries.

On 1 September 2010, Lee made the spat public in a blow-by-blow statement, which is available online.

There seems little love lost between Lee and what remains of IISL. Lee said Masson-Zwaan had made “humiliating” statements of what was expectated of him and that he was accused of lying in his resignation letter and of making “personal attack and insult” while also being subjected to personal attacks. Meanwhile, the moot problem was also allegedly “held hostage” and further mediations and disagreements took place about the IISL constitution.

“Words simply cannot express the sorrow and heartbreak that I feel to bid farewell to the friendships that have been forged through the years,” wrote Lee.

But he was clearly not one to dwell. In the four-page statement, Lee also announced that he was launching a new rival Space Law moot - the IASLA Space Law Moot Court Competition - under the umbrella of the International Air and Space Law Association (IASLA).

The new moot’s website is still the top search engine hit for the term “space moot” and is hosted on the former IISL Space Moot’s web domain – www.spacemoot.org – which was privately registered and owned by Lee who says he voluntarily and temporarily made the domain available to IISL. The Lachs Moot is now hosted on the IISL’s website.

Lost in space

Several months later Lee reiterates to Legally India that the IISL did not support Asia-Pacific mooting as much as he felt was required.

“The IISL did not take care of the costs and expenses of the Regional Rounds,” he says. “While the Asia Pacific Regional Rounds would have been able to recover most of its costs from registration fees, the fact that we discounted or waived registration fees for many teams from developing countries and the increased costs involved in the various awards and the structure of the competition (four preliminary rounds and then quarter-finals etc, unlike Europe and North America where they tend to be knock-out competitions) meant that it suffered a loss for each of the years that I had been responsible for it.

“We have been fortunate to have the financial and in-kind support of our sponsors but unfortunately they were never enough.”

Masson-Zwaan disagrees. She tells Legally India that each regional organiser has the discretion to set their own budgets and to conduct the financial aspects of the regional rounds. “In general, the regional organisers secure contributions of funds and services, and set their own registration fees. The IISL provides assistance and guidance but does not financially underwrite the regional rounds,” she argues.

While Lee accepts that he covered the additional costs voluntarily and did not raise this as a serious concern earlier, he explains that he feels it was “important to maximise the opportunities for teams to compete regardless of their financial circumstances and when they are at the regional rounds for them to have as many opportunities to moot as possible”, which should not be limited by IISL financial resources.

Parallel universes

The IASLA moot, says Lee, promises to “retain the best traditions” of the Asia Pacific Regional Rounds in terms of structure and the selection and allocation of its judges. There would be four preliminary rounds followed by finals, which will be replicated in Europe and North America where previously such structures or policies did not exist, he says.

There are other contrasts to original space moot too, he adds. “Some important differences to the Lachs Moot is that the IASLA Moot allows for teams of up to four students (instead of three) and the world finals are held in July (instead of October) in a fixed location.”

Provisionally, it is proposed to be in The Hague, the Netherlands rather than being changed year-by-year depending on the location of the International Astronautical Congress. The new moot would also include plagiarism verification technology for memorials to assist in “stamping out plagiarism and academic dishonesty” that Lee says have been issues in some years in the past.

Masson-Zwaan declined to comment about the new IASLA space moot but instead highlighted the importance of Lachs for IISL. The Space Moot was tightly joined in to the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC), there were numerous benefits and opportunities for students to participate, JAXA (Japan) was offering continued support by sponsoring the Asia Pacific winner to attend the world finals.

IISL and the organising committee looked forward to a “robust competition in 2011 with a large number of schools participating”, adds Masson-Zwaan.

National space programmes

Although Indian teams’ participation and successes have increased in recent years, both Lee and Masson-Zwaan were aware of issues faced by Indian teams at Lachs, such as the difficulty of finding sponsorship for the Asia Pacific Rounds, the possibility of an Indian regional round to reduce the financial burden of travel to Australia or elsewhere and potentially allowing more teams from Asia Pacific rounds to participate in the World Finals.

Lee said that for IASLA various models for creating a domestic Indian funding round were under consideration and that they hoped to be able to make an announcement by the end of 2011.

Lee also agreed that participation in regional and world rounds should increase. “For years I have advocated for the regional runners-up to be allowed to compete in the world finals but this has been strongly resisted through the years by others who are based in Europe and North America, even though the Asia Pacific Regional Rounds were larger than double of the other two regions combined!” enthuses Lee.

But he was also quick to add that this would not happen for the first edition of his new space law moot. “I have to be honest, we do not want to add work for ourselves until we have some certainty as to the logistics of our first international finals – so for 2011 the IASLA Moot would only have the regional winners in the International Finals.”

“Once the dust settles in relation to the format and logistics of the international finals then we may consider having say one finalist team berth for every 20 teams in the regional rounds or something along those lines,” notes Lee. “Of course, this would be a pleasant problem to have as it would mean that we have started a successful competition.”

Masson-Zwaan was also receptive to the idea of a greater role for India and growing the original Lachs space moot, adding that IISL also hoped to soon add African and Latin American Regional rounds although the addition of any new region would require modification of the format of the finals and various structures would have to be considered.

The IISL would soon start to look for and evaluate possible locations for the 2012 Asia-Pacific Round, said Masson-Zwaan and she was bullish about India’s future role.

“With India's strong presence in the competition, among other considerations, it is not a question of whether, but when, India will host the [IISL] regional round,” she said.

Twin-star system?

It is clear that both rival moots are keen for India to continue being a part of the history and successes of space law mooting. But it remains to be seen which moot and organisation Indian (and international) teams will show allegiance to and if the new moot will dilute the quality of teams taking part in space mooting.

While Lee promises better-organisation of the new moot, Lachs’ long-standing reputation – that was ironically part-built by Lee in the Asia-Pacific region - will be hard to beat.

The Asia-Pacific rounds of the Lachs space moot will be held between 3 and 5 June in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The IASLA registration deadline is 14 January 2011 and finals will be held from 6 July 2011 after domestic funding and regional qualification rounds in March and April.

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