Fletcher Students Participate in Manfred Lachs Moot Court for the Second Year

Who is liable when objects manufactured in outer space cause damage?
Fiona Negron, wearing a light blue jacket; Gaurav Redhal, wearing a blue suit and Sophia Warner, wearing a black suit on a balcony of the Cabot building
L-R: Fiona Negron, Gaurav Redhal, and Sophia Warner

For the second year in a row, Fletcher School students participated in the Manfred Lachs Space Moot Court Competition hosted by the International Institute of Space Law. The Fletcher team comprised of Fiona Negron, MALD ’24; Gaurav Redhal, LLM ’22; Sophia Warner, MALD ’23; and team coach/captain Jack Lashendock, MALD ’22, along with Yvonne Silva, MALD ’23, team researcher, placed in the top ten and even beat out third-year law school students from the University of Denver in the process.

The fictitious case they were given had two small nations, Candidia and Xenovia, growing their space sector activities in the year 2032. This included using 3D printers and artificial intelligence to make objects in space. Candidia’s Valerian 806 satellite is part of a mega-satellite constellation and was manufactured in space and deployed to low Earth orbit from the Pacem space station. Valerian’s owners defaulted on payments. The creditor contracted for the Fenix-3 satellite, registered in Xenovia, to take possession of Valerian 806 and to relocate it to another orbit. In an explosion, both the Valerian 806 and Fenix-3 satellites were destroyed. While most of the fragments burned up in the atmosphere, some pieces did not, and one large fragment of the Fenix-3 satellite struck a Candidia military cargo plane, which crashed into the ocean killing all nine persons on board. Both parties submitted claims for compensation for damages to the International Court of Justice for adjudication.

For the case, the Fletcher team had to be prepared to argue both sides of the case for the two nations. Fiona, Gaurav, Sophia, and Jack read the complicated details of the case numerous times. The team then submitted written briefs prior to participating in the competition via Zoom.

To make sure all angles of the case were covered, Yvonne conducted research to provide resources, legal cases, and legal arguments so the team would have convincing arguments during the competition. Sophia researched issues of liability under the Outer Space Treaty, Liability Convention, and other customary international laws, and later took the lead on oral arguments for the respondent side. With his experience from the previous year’s competition, Jack coached the team and advised them as to what to expect as they moved closer to the competition’s start. Gaurav was responsible for looking at the nuances of state compliance with obligations under the Outer Space Treaty, customary international law, Cape Town Convention, and associated Protocols, and further took on the lead on the applicant’s side.

“The case was really interesting and aligned with what I’m studying at Fletcher so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate again. It’s a great learning opportunity and moot court aligned with my interest in international law and international organizations; the fact that it was a case about outer space intrigued me as well. The team worked hard to prepare to argue liability when constellations of satellites collide in outer space. We held several practice rounds where we took on different roles such as acting as a judge to prepare for the case,” Jack said.

The Fletcher team spent hours researching and writing two 40-page legal briefs for both sides of the case, prior to delivering their oral arguments against teams from across the country. The Fletcher team even held a mock moot court with Fletcher Professor Rockford (Rocky) Weitz to gain feedback.

“These issues, as crazy and Star-Wars-esque as they may sound⸺are real. This was a collective effort within the whole Fletcher community. Professors and other students were so supportive. I had friends send me their international law notes, and other Fletcher friends sent me articles on space that they found relevant. Everyone was so excited for us⸺and we channeled that energy into competing,” Sophia said.

Yvonne noted, “As Professor Rocky always says in all his classes ‘You cannot separate land, sea, and space’ they are all connected.”

When the competition started, the Fletcher team presented their case using whiteboards full of notes to refer to, as they were not allowed to communicate with anyone outside of their presentation room per competition rules.

“I liked thinking on my feet during rounds and responding to questions. Competing for the second year, I felt even more competent and confident in my knowledge of the law in this area, and it was really gratifying to see how our team has improved and developed deep expertise which we were able to demonstrate before top practitioners in the field serving as judges,” Fiona said.

The Fletcher team won the first case of the day with a higher score than the previous year. Overall, the team placed 9th just shy of the top eight finishers who would advance to the next round of the competition. The eventual winner of the contest was George Washington University.

“Fletcher is a leader in understanding diplomatic tendencies. The Fletcher team was the only non-law school to argue the case showing the importance of a duality of law and diplomacy education,” Jack said.

Fiona added, “Fletcher is just the kind of school set up to succeed in the competition. Our unique combination of law and diplomacy allows us to approach cutting-edge space issues with greater perspective than many law school teams. We got questions from judges about the politics of the Outer Space Treaty negotiation process during the Cold War and the moral and policy backgrounds underpinning the negotiating history. Our depth of understanding on these issues went beyond just the legal doctrine, and depth is needed to devise the best solutions in this rapidly evolving area of law.”

“Being a law student, the complexities and intricacies within the emerging spheres of governance have always intrigued me. Manfred Lachs gave me an opportunity to further enhance my understanding and dwell upon significant and technical issues of outer space state cooperation and governance, along with realizing states’ obligations and their relationship with the acts of the private organizations. Our success in this competition is the result of our zeal for learning and contributing toward this field. Furthermore, this competition allowed us to connect with the community in the relevant field and learn from their enriched experience and insights. Since international space law is still a developing and emerging field, therefore researching across diverse disciplines of international law to prepare creative arguments enthralled me,” Gaurav said.

All four students hope the tradition of having Fletcher students compete in the Moot Court competition will continue going forward.

“I would tell Fletcher students don't be afraid of trying something new - maybe you will end up liking it, I know I did. Moot court cases are fun. They make you think of creative arguments and solutions, and simply think about possible problems that may arise in the future as technology develops. Law is fun! International Law is fun! Outer space and technology just simply blow your mind away!” Yvonne said.

Congratulations to the Fletcher team for their success. We look forward to seeing what next year’s team will accomplish.


- by Sarah Foote