Family lawyers face new curbs on court bundles

Topics: Family and children,Courts business,Judicial

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  • James Munby

The president of the Family Division has proposed introducing mandatory restrictions on the number of pages in court documents for family cases, alleging that lawyers have ignored previous calls for restraint. 

Last February Sir James Munby (pictured) criticised lawyers for ‘routinely’ ignoring practice directions imposing a 350-page limit on bundles, warning that surplus court documents would be destroyed without notice if practitioners cannot keep to these directions.

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But in proposals published for consultation today, Munby says he is ‘not conscious’ this has had much effect, and that the time may have now come to impose page limits for certain types of documents.

These are not currently regulated by practice directions.

The limits would be mandatory unless the court specifically directs otherwise.

Munby has proposed amending the practice directions to specify limits on the number of sheets of paper specific documents should contain. The proposals include a 10-page cap on skeleton arguments, a maximum of 20 pages for witness statements and 40 pages for expert reports. 

He has also suggested amending the rules to specify that bundles should not contain more than ten authorities.

Munby said the need for mandatory restrictions was highlighted by the case of Seagrove v Sullivan, when a family judge removed most case documents from court after the parties' lawyers submitted 3,500 pages of documents from 32 authorities for consideration ahead of a proposed eight-day trial. 

Munby is asking for opinions on whether his proposals are desirable, and if so whether the length would be controlled by page count or word count, and if by page count what figures are appropriate.

Readers' comments (14)

  • 'My Lord, as peculiar as it may sound to the judicial ear, my instructing solicitors perceive themselves to owe professional duties to my client. In the back of their mind lurks a fear of professional negligence proceedings in the event that my client's desired outcome was thought to have been compromised by a want of evidence. If it will be of assistance, perhaps my instructing solicitors might be prevailed upon to remove every odd numbered page from the existing bundles, after which, if it please the Court, I can open.'

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  • or perhaps:
    "My Lord, sadly my instructing solicitors are not in possession of a crystal ball. They are therefore mindful that the trial process is adversarial in nature and that this often throws up unexpected twists and turns during a hearing. Also, judges are often capricious, as well as happy to apportion blame (and costs penalties) for supposed deficiencies in court bundles, without fact finding. As a result, without being 100% sure in advance w t f you will need, they've put in everything that seemed relevant."

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  • Good idea. Huge bundles, thousands of pages to which no one refers. Is the judge pre trial trequired to read them all, or ask counsel to read them to her? When I started counsel read the affidavits to the judge. It was the evidence in the case.

    It's the photocopier as a substitute for thought. The hope something will turn up. The failure of solicitors to get an advice on evidence. The lack of time for judges to compel parties to get to the real issues and stick to them. The fear of solicitors of being sued because the (irrelevant ) 1995 bank statements weren't in evidence. Etc etc.

    Why are the documents hardly ever referred to in the witness statements (maybe this should be a requirement by reference to the document and page numbers and not as a generality? "I produce 4000 documents" is a not on.)

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  • With all due respect...we have to act in the best interest of our client and although my learnered friends or the judiciary may not read the bundles, it is in the bundle because I have read it and feel that it may be of assistance to my clients case.

    Convenience was not one of the underlying features of justice or the rule of law...but neither was price. But we are where we are!

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  • There must be very few cases that really require more than 350 pages. Doesn't the practice direction suggest an application in such cases for the Court to pre-approve a "large" bundle? Where is the drama?

    Why don't the Court just burn pages 351+ onwards without debate? I'm pretty sure solicitors would quickly convey the message to their clients. Clients can they adopt one of two approaches, firstly - pay for the application for a large bundle or secondly, decide how critical that document is to their case and include it within the 350 or not.

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  • Anon 9.29 have you in everyone of your cases gone through every page of the 300 plus pages of bank and other financial documents. If so why and what was included in your questionnaire? Do you routinely ask for an explanation of all expenditure over £250?

    I once costed such a question. There were 2or 3 hundred pages. The cost was likely to be many hundreds pounds to answer, review the question and take instructions on it, reply, review the reply and take instructions on it. In a bog standard modest value case.

    Do you refer to the documents individually (possibly as categories) with explanation in your witness statements?

    The reality is that bundles are used as a weapon. I've said elsewhere that a colleague made his own bundle of documents as one was referred to in evidence by taking it out of the trial bundles. As they were the only relevant ones.

    A 3500 page bundle would take a week or more just to read. So it can't be read.

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  • Dear Anonymous, 20 Jan. (04.43pm)

    I have received bundles just like that and I foolishly thought it was a fault with the photocopier !!?

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  • 1. What are the issues?
    2. What evidence is there to support those issues?
    3.What documentary evidence is required to support/challenge those issues?
    4. Everything else goes into the bin.

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  • oh dear - witness evidence has to be relevant, but only 20 pages in complex abuse cases for example. Are their lordships going to prescribe a limit to the number of pages in their judgements.? Surely the important matter is to ensure all the relevant evidence is heard. Quite simple really... this is about justice, which means that sometimes the stuff just has to be read!

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  • Anon at 4.28 hits the nail on the head. Except that I would have said real issues.

    Anon at 5.35 misses the point. Making overstated points doesn't help. Facing up to the real issues and accepting those that are inescapable actually strengthens the arguments which are positive. Client's subjective evidence is not, in such circumstances, in their best interests.

    Of course cases with complex issues will have more documents. More experts etc. But this in my time had become the norm. There has to be an introduction of realism - which applies to both sides of every case.

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