In what appears to be a clear majority, Oxford SU have voted in favour of campaigning to ban the use of scholars’ gowns at moot courts. The gowns, argued to be elitist by some, are traditionally worn by high-achieving students, who were either on scholarship or had performed exceedingly well in their exams.
Moots are simulated court hearings, affording students an opportunity to enhance their legal research and argumentative skills. These are often judged by persons from leading law firms or chambers.
Thomas Howard, a second-year law student at Magdalen College who proposed the change, was of the opinion that donning of such gowns could create an “unconscious bias” in the minds of judges. He questioned the rationale behind differentiating between participants of a moot, given that there was no direct correlation between exam performance and mooting skills.
There was no opposition speech, countering the motion. Accordingly, it was passed with 38 votes in favour, three in opposition and two abstentions. The Oxford SU Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs will now petition the Law Faculty to change their policy of permitting top law students to wear scholars’ gowns at moot court competitions.
This comes in the wake of an earlier motion in the previous term that had called for a blanket ban on scholars’ gowns, pending consultation. Despite some concerns expressed by several students that watching others wearing these gowns to exams could be disheartening and stressful, the outcome of the consultation had revealed that 63 percent were in favour of retaining the existing system.