He might not agree with a court forcing a person to change their religion, but Justice Rhys Harrison couldn't pick a winner in infamous The Merchant of Venice trial when it was brought before him this month.

Aspiring young lawyers from the University of Auckland re-examined the 400-year-old case of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender, versus Antonio, the Venetian merchant, using cast members from Pop-up Globe's production to re-enact the courtroom drama in front of Court of Appeal Justice Harrison.

In Shakespeare's 1597 play, one of this year's PuG productions, the court found against Shylock who demanded a pound of Antonio's flesh if the wealthy trader defaulted on his loans.

Out of pocket, Shylock had taken a case to court but it was decided he could not collect a pound of flesh from Antonio without spilling a drop of his blood and had, in fact, endangered the life of a Venetian citizen. Shylock then found himself ordered to pay reparations or change his religion and keep some of his fortune.


Having witnessed the re-enactment, the university's award-winning mooting teams presented arguments to Justice Harrison on whether the court was right to rule that Shylock must change his religion.

But hearing these arguments, Justice Harrison couldn't make a definitive decision and, impressed by arguments from both teams, ruled it a draw.

While demanding a pound of flesh or forcing a man to change his religion may seem extreme penalties for defaulting on a loan and attempting to recover it, Justice Harrison says the legal arguments are as relevant today as they were 400 years ago when Shakespeare wrote the play.

He says the courts still hear cases of unpaid loans and tricky legal arguments but today the penalty might be home detention and a repayment plan. However, he praised the return of theatre to the courtroom.

"This kind of event teaches young lawyers to participate in front of a live, interactive audience rather than some sterile environment where they're advancing dry legal argument in front of a judge. It was a fun thing to do and they will be better for it."

Justice Harrison says theatre and law had long gone hand-in-hand but with the abolition of juries in civil cases, a lot of the theatrics had been stripped away.

"There's still some room for theatre in the criminal court but in a civil trial, lawyers are much less able to display a theatrical ability. Mooting teaches these young lawyers how to perform in front of an irascible or closed-minded judge, to get them used to arguing an unpopular cause."