Debate VS submission in Court

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What’s the difference?

What is debate?

[1] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, debate is “a formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward and which usually ends with a vote.” A debate is often conducted with a moderator and an audience, in addition to the debate participants.

[2] Logical consistency, factual accuracy and some degree of emotional appeal to the audience are elements in debating. A debate can be in the form of formal direct oral contest or competition in argumentation between two or more people on a defined proposition at a specific time. Overall, debates are very common in social, political, and educational environments and the topics addressed in a debate can be virtually anything.

What is submission in court?

[3] Submission in court on the other hand, involves adducing evidence, cross examination, presentation of written submission. The court proceedings of submissions in lower courts are different from the submissions in higher courts to certain extend.

[4] A trial conducted in the lower courts, such as the magistrate courts or the sessions courts, judges (in some countries, trials may be listened by juries) have to decide which facts are true based on the evidence adduced and apply the law which the facts of the case can fit in.

[5] In a hearing in higher Court, the judges are focused solely on the application of the law to the founded facts. The analyse of problems, research of relevant law and presentation of arguments are what will be showing in higher court hearings. Usually, there will be a question of law for a case to be heard in higher Courts.


Competitive debate is presented in front of public.

[6] Audience of debate are from all walks of lives. One of the qualities of well-trained debaters is to ‘win’ the attention and applause of audience. Sometimes, the debate judges do not have any debate experience, they are appointed as debate judges because the competition organizer wants the debaters to be able to convince not only other debaters but also an ordinary person. Therefore, when your arguments are too profound, it might confuse the audience. Therefore, the debaters are trained to pick the audience-friendly arguments over those very strong points.

[7] Not only the arguments are audience-friendly, they will also pay attention to the way of developing their speech so that it enables the audience to follow them. The debaters do not care whether their arguments are irrefutable or not, they want the effect of deep impression from the audience. Debaters are all very good speakers, as they know how to write their speech to make it more attractive and to ensure the emotional participation of audience.

Submission in court is heard by judges or juries.

[8] unlike the debate audience, the background of judges and juries are less diverse. Judges are from legal backgrounds while even if the juries are chosen from the public, they would have undergone specific trainings before they are fit to sit in the trial where a judge will be there to assist them in the application of laws.

[9] What causes a ‘win’ in debate, is very different from a ‘win’ with a trial judge or jury. There is no point or need for fancy speeches as the judges are most definitely more experienced, no emotions can be involved when passing a judgement. The counsel, in contrast to the debaters, have to choose their arguments carefully and use facts which will assist their case, emphasizing reasons and evidence as the ‘logos’ of argumentation.

[10] Unlike the debate, the courts are bound by higher court judgments. Whereby judges in lower courts are not allowed to overrule the judgments/ decisions made by the courts above, thus they are required to make decisions established by previous case laws. Even if they personally do not agree with the grounds of the said decision. In court submissions, what a judge think is not that important, the counsel’s duty is to tell the judges how to give the judgment based on the law and the precedents.


Debate is marked by points.

[11] Most of the debaters have rapid-fire speaking skill, they are trained to speak in a hyperventilating style in order to put in as many points as possible. It is because they think that the more arguments they raise, the more marks they gain. And this is true in competitive debate because when they break their arguments into pieces, they can simply drop out one when they notice that it does not do much for their tactic.

[12] Debaters never expect to carry all of their arguments to conclusion. Instead, they “spread” out their opponents by offering a large quantity of arguments and then selecting just a few toward the end depend on how their adversary responds. This allows a bigger flexibility for them to change their tactic in the middle of debate. Also, it will not cause great harm to them as it does not affect the completion of their debating and the audience might not even notice it, at least an untrained audience won’t.

[13] Part of the reasons why they do so is the rules of competitive debate. Often, the debaters are timed when they speak so they sometimes do not manage to finish their arguments when time is up. Hence, to include more points within the same time limit given is also an important skill for debaters.

[14] Debate training tend to set aside the truth, to give way to a more complete and safer strategy. If that is the goal, then a bad argument can be just as useful as a good one. As what is stated above, debate is like a show to the public hence no one will question the truth of your speech. As long as the thing is not too ridiculous until people can notice it without hesitation, then it is fine. Even though doubt can be raised by the opponent, the debaters are not required to prove to them all with evidence.

No marking criteria for court submission.

[15] Debate experienced attorneys, Fulkerson and Lots note that trial lawyers whom were previously debaters were often told at some point to slow down their speech and to adapt to their audience. As clarity of one’s argument is more important in a lawyer’s submission. A lawyer has to ensure that the judges or jury are with them and that they are clear with whatever arguments they raise.

[16] There is no need to include bundle of points as quality beats quantity in submission in court. This means that a case with just two strong arguments may well be better than a case with three strong arguments along with two weak ones. The judges do not need a lot of arguments which are irrelevant or insignificant to the case, they only need one point which is decisive and clearly tells them what approach should address to the issues of the case.

[17] Every argument made in court takes a toll on the counsel’s persuasive target’s attention, recollection and attitude. The author of “In the trial advocacy world” noted, “Very low probability arguments are invariably cast aside for the more bread and butter discussions that are central to a case.”. The lawyers have the same need to be selective, but unlike the debaters, they must make the most important choices before, rather than during the trial.

[18] In the court, “evidence” is very important. The counsel can only raise facts which they can prove. The judges can and often ask for evidence for statements of the counsel and if they fail to prove to the court, it will be struck out. Therefore, when preparing for court submission, the counsel not only have to think of the arguments but also how to prove to the court by adducing relevant evidence.

Debate Happens between debaters only.

[19] In competitive debate, the judges cannot question the debaters. The rules of debates are designed to let the debaters to have full control of the situation. This is regarded fair as both parties have the same opportunities to speak, question and rebut. It is totally up to the debaters what questions they want to ask, what arguments they want to put forward and so on.

[20] The participation of judges or third party in a competitive debate might affect their performance. The third-party statement might not be neutral, he/she might be supporter of either side and even the question from a judge can be helping one side to develop their point out of kindness. Thus, the questions from third parties are not allowed in a competitive debate.

[21] The judges and audience can only listen to the debater’s speech and if one team is obviously not as good as its opponents, then they can probably be led by their opponents to issues that are not favoring their side and have no chance to develop their good points. While in debate, this happens all the time especially when the debaters are lack of experience. Debaters can simply lose the competition because they fail to address their arguments properly in the debate and the audience and judges do not have access to their arguments in advance or at any point during and after the debate, so their performance during the debate is everything.

Judges can question the lawyers in court submission.

[22] The character of judges in court are different with those in debate, Judge Marvin E. Frankel described the traditional conception of judge’s role as “the neutral, impartial, clam, noncontentious umpire standing between the adversary parties, seeing that they observe the rules of the adversary game.”

[23] The purpose of having judges involve in the trial is to assure the justice during every stage of the litigation, therefore their power to ask the counsel question is important in order to promote their judicial role. They are not only engaged in the hearings; they will have to urge the counsel to get their work done properly before the trial. Judges would have already read the submissions by both parties in word form before the trial started so that they can make sure themselves to be fully understood to the case. Nothing surprising should be taking place during the trials.

[24] It is important for judges to ensure that the controversies will be litigated in a manner appropriate to what is truly at issue and as justly and speedily as possible. Hearing in court is not an easy task, the judge must be fair and dig into underdeveloped arguments and the facts that are hidden behind by the counsel’s tactical roadblocks at the same time.


[25] The differences between debates and submission in court are mostly the difference in purpose. Debates are usually used to train students’ speaking skills, shape the way they think and learn the arts of convincing. There is no right or wrong.

[26] However, in court submission, the role of the judiciary is to ascertain and decide both public and private rights, to administer justice, to punish crimes and to protect the innocent from injury and usurpation. The judges, to urge this goal, will have to do a lot more compared with a debate judge. They need to be equipped with sufficient legal knowledge which enables them to apply facts to legal rules and interpret those as best as they can.

[27] The counsels of course, have much bigger responsibilities compared to a common debater, they are there to assist the judge to give judgment, it is a more loaded task and therefore clearance and effective communication between judges and counsel are paramount important.

[28] There is a great difference between them, from its preparation stage to the outcomes. Nonetheless, a platform which allows students to debate are very good starting points and are great preparation for “future lawyers” as it develops many general skills such as the ability to read understand and properly interpret the information given, to ‘turn’ an opponent’s evidence and arguments in one’s favour and to analyse primary and secondary source research. It is not surprising that many former debaters become successful advocacy lawyers at the end of the day.

Ting Bee Ren
University of Leeds

Ting Bee Ren
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