I assume that all lawyers have memories of the first time that they appeared in court: tongue-tied, hot and cold flushes, mistaking the judge for the usher, standing in the wrong place, unbidden words emerging in a strange order, asking for an illegal remedy, leafing through the wrong file.
The organisation for which I work, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), has just published a most useful booklet for appearances in certain cases before a court, which can seem equally bewildering. It is very unlikely that you would be in this court as a trainee or without previous court experience of some sort, but the guidance is nevertheless necessary, since it concerns the European court of justice. The booklet is called: Practical Guidance for Advocates before the Court of Justice in Preliminary Reference Cases.
I must tell you that its first title was Tips for Advocates etc…. Our membership is largely non-anglophone, although most speak excellent English. For them, ‘tips’ sounded too much like something you hand to a waiter, and so the title was changed from ‘Tips’ to ‘Practical Guidance’. This is relevant to part of the advice it gives, because how something sounds to non-native ears can be significantly different, especially in a court which deals with different languages and has judges from all over Europe. So the guide says in relation to drafting style:
- Keep the style simple so that it translates easily – punchy, uncomplicated sentences are best
- Consider asking a non-native speaker to read your text to check for likely ease of translation
- Avoid use of national legal jargon, which may be difficult to translate easily
In other words, to labour the point, you might find that the court thinks you are talking about small cash payments rather than practical guidance.
There is other good advice, which might not be immediately familiar to users of UK courts:
- Written pleadings generally have more impact on the court than oral pleadings
- A concise statement of the national legal framework can be important and should be prepared in a style that is easily comprehensible to lawyers from other legal traditions and which could be slotted into the judgment
- Note that annexes are not translated into the court’s working language (French) and that judges will not even see them unless they request to do so
And then there is this one, which would surely not occur to someone without previous experience:
- If possible, send a summary of your pleading (e.g. three-four pages with highlights/bullet points) – including references to any judgments from which you intend to quote – to the interpreters in advance at the following email: email@example.com. In any event, bring a paper copy with you for the interpreters at the hearing or, if you lend your notes for photocopying, paginate them first
And this, for all those fancy-pants rhetoricians out there:
- Avoid literary flourishes, jokes and idiomatic speech - they translate poorly
There is plenty more, like exactly where the court is and how best to get there (bus stop: Philharmonie), how to navigate your way to the courtroom and to the lockers for your personal items, what to wear and where to sit, how you can be sure not to tune into the Swedish interpreting channel by mistake, and will there be a power point for your laptop.
I have selected a nearly random sample for your information, but the booklet is well worth reading from beginning to end. If only there had been such advice for me all those years ago, I might have chosen to become an Atticus Finch or Horace Rumpole, instead of a faceless Brussels policy wonk.
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs