An exasperated senior judge has said surplus court documents will be destroyed without notice if lawyers cannot keep to practice directions on bundle sizes.
Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, said the legal profession must recognise that ‘enough is enough’.
PD 27 states that unless the court has directed otherwise, parties can submit a bundle of no more than 350 sides of text.
Munby, writing in a judgment on a care proceedings case, said this direction was ‘routinely ignored’, with lawyers often bringing a second bundle with them to court.
‘This practice must stop and I have taken practical steps to stop it,’ he said. ‘From now on, counter-staff at court offices will be instructed to refuse to accept witness bundles, unless a judge has specifically directed that they are to be lodged, and to require whoever is trying to lodge them to take them away.
‘If witness bundles are sent by post, or by DX or delivered by couriers who refuse to take them away, they will, unless a judge has specifically directed that they are to be lodged, be destroyed without any prior warning necessarily being given. They will not be delivered to the judge and will not be taken into the courtroom by court staff.’
Munby said defaulters can have no complaint if they are exposed to public condemnation in judgments. Excessive bundles may also be subject to financial penalties.
‘It is no use the court continuing feebly to issue empty threats,’ he added. ‘From now on delinquents can expect to find themselves subject to effective sanctions.’
In the case in question, the scheduled documents ran to 591 pages, which included 131 pages of witness statements by the mother involved.
The issue of excessive documents was brought into focus by the fact that the father in the case was Slovenian and could not read or speak English.
Solicitors for the father applied for £23,000 funding from the Legal Aid Agency to translate 591 pages at a cost of £38 per page.
The LAA said the application was not ‘necessary or justified’ as the father would be unlikely to read every page of the documentation.
Munby said it was ‘quite impossible’ to justify translating all 591 pages, which included 23 pages of Warwickshire County Council’s original application, 32 pages of recordings of contact sessions and 17 pages of advice on another party’s immigration status. Munby asked ‘why’ on four separate occasions in just a single paragraph of his judgment.
He said it was necessary for the father to be able to read in his own language those documents, or parts of documents, which will enable him to understand the central essence of the local authority’s case or which relate specifically to him. The rest need only be summarised.
Munby finished with a plea to protect public funds, which he said are likely to reduce rather than increase in future.
‘If a task is not necessary why should litigants or their professional advisers expect public money to be made available?’ he asked.
‘They cannot and should not. Proper compliance with PD27A and, in particular, strict adherence to the bundle page limit, is an essential tool in the struggle to control the costs of family litigation.’