The legal profession is failing to get the message about preparing better skeleton arguments, Lord Justice Jackson has said.
The architect of last year’s civil litigation reforms used a Court of Appeal judgment to ‘speak more bluntly’ about the ‘poor quality and excessive length’ of some skeleton arguments in the upper courts.
Jackson said that an appellant in a dispute over whether to commit a defendant for contempt of court had produced ‘35 pages of rambling prolixity’ which made it difficult to track down the relevant facts, issues and arguments.
The judge noted that the Court of Appeal has previously deprived successful parties of the costs of preparing their skeletons but said mild rebukes were no longer enough.
Jackson said: ‘As anyone who has drafted skeleton arguments knows, the task is not rocket science. It just requires a few minutes clear thought and planning before you start.
‘A good skeleton argument (of which we receive many) is a real help to judges when they are pre-reading the (usually voluminous) bundles. A bad skeleton argument simply adds to the paper jungle through which judges must hack their way in an effort to identify the issues and the competing arguments.’
Jackson said an appellant’s skeleton should not normally exceed 25 pages and would usually be much shorter.
Lawyers should provide a ‘concise, user-friendly introduction’ for the benefit of judges, with cross-references to relevant documents and authorities.