Main content

Oxford Style Debate

The following details modified rules for courtroom Oxford-Style debate.

Total Time: 90 min
The specified time limits are guidelines and should not be rigorously enforced.

After the volunteer lawyers have set the stage and provided the necessary background about the topic, they review the following, modified rules of an Oxford-Style Debate.

Debate Question

The interactive component of the program begins when the host Judge announces the debate question.

The Structure of the Debate 

The following debate structure is a modified/simplified adaptation of the Rules for Debate in Oxford Style from the South African National Debating Council. The host Judge presides over the debate and raises the predetermined questions at the appropriate times. An attorney moderator facilitates the open-floor elements of the program - calling on students and directing them to the appropriate person(s) - Judge, attorneys, student debaters, and other audience members. Any audience member who speaks stands, addresses the moderator, and remains standing until the answer is complete. However, each audience member may speak only once until all interested participants have spoken.

Debate Teams

1. Three debaters serve on each of the two teams. The debaters are expected to prepare on their own before the event. The suggested talking points in the posted materials are not meant to be all inclusive. They also have 60 minutes to prepare at the courthouse with their attorney partners (usually representatives of the U.S. District Attorney's Office and the Federal Public Defender's Office) prior to the start of the courtroom event.

2. The objective of the Affirmative Team is to set out convincing arguments and materials that support a yes response to the questions raised. The objective of the Negative Team is to refute the points made by the Affirmative Team through the use of convincing arguments and materials.

3. The Affirmative Team must answer yes and defend its position in regard to each topic during the debate and the discussion with the audience. The Negative team must respond no and support its position.

Audience Participation

4. When it is time for audience participation, the Judge does not raise a topic. This part of the debate is open to anyone in the audience and lasts for approximately 30 minutes. All members of the audience may speak from the floor during the designated time. Audience members must address questions and comments only to the attorney moderator, who directs them to the appropriate person - Judge, attorneys, one or more debaters, or to another audience member. The moderator is careful to direct the questions to the debaters fairly so that one student doesn't monopolize the time.

5. The members of the audience serve as jurors in groups of approximately 12. Jurors must base the decision upon which team has put forth the most convincing arguments and supporting materials on all or the majority of the topics and questions raised during the entire debate and open discussion.

Option 1: If there is time, the juries gather and discuss their respective reasoning and try to come to a unanimous verdict. The judge calls the groups back to order and asks each group to report its results. The judge comments on the performance of each team but does not choose a winner.

Option 2: If there is not time for jury deliberations at the end of the debate, the Judge asks the audience, by means of a simple hand count, which side - Affirmative or Negative - won the debate.


6. The Judge opens the floor to the audience for questions and comments on any topic.

DISCLAIMER: These resources are created by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for educational purposes only. They may not reflect the current state of the law, and are not intended to provide legal advice, guidance on litigation, or commentary on any pending case or legislation.