A judge in a £1.5bn tax fraud trial has slapped down both sets of lawyers over ‘substantially unsatisfactory’ witness statements submitted to the court.
Mr Justice Andrew Baker was so scathing of submissions in Skatteforvaltningen (The Danish Customs And Tax Administration) v Solo Capital Partners LLP & Ors that he took time out at the end of the judgment to assure those involved that they should not take it as personal criticism.
But his admonishment is the latest in a long line of cases where judges have voiced their concern at lawyers failing to follow procedure and bombarding the court with unnecessary and extensive material.
The ruling followed an application against the claimant, the Danish tax authority, for summary judgment by taxpayer agent Goal Taxback – one of 92 defendants – in what was described by the judge as ‘litigation on a massive scale’. As of last month, 21 separate legal teams were actively responding to the various claims, which would take up to 50 weeks to resolve if they all came to trial.
As part of his ruling, the judge focused much attention on the content and length of witness evidence supplied by solicitors for the parties. These were, he said, largely not witness evidence but argument, with lawyers expending considerable time and effort to argue the summary judgment application twice over. This was despite the court having granted both sides to submit skeleton arguments up to 50 pages long.
Solicitors submitted up to three different statements each, and five statements alone came to some 157 pages. These were so lengthy that the judge asked for further copies to be provided where only passages that were relevant should be highlighted, which halved the number of pages finally submitted.
The judge said he found it ‘impossible’ to identify why the parties had sought to argue the application through witness statements, and even if these statements were intended to act as a guide for what would be argued in court, they should have been written ‘with real care and an eye on minimality’.
Baker stressed his criticism was not a complaint about the burden on him of pre-reading or of wasting paper (the documents were hosted digitally).
‘It is a concern that far too much time will have been spent on the pre-hearing stages of this application, on both sides, at expensive hourly rates, because of the approach adopted by Goal, and joined in enthusiastically by SKAT, to treat the exchange of evidence for the application as an opportunity to (try to) argue the application out between the legal teams, on paper, before then arguing it out, this time properly, before the court at the hearing.’
The application for summary judgment was dismissed.