Judge threatens age-old punishment for wordy lawyers

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the UK Royal Courts of Justice, has issued a scathing judgment criticising lawyers who ignore court limits on the length of pre-trial documents. In Re L (A Child), 989 pages of documents were filed, far more than the 350 page limit set by the Court rules. After reviewing the case the judge determined that only 51 pages of the documents were essential for the hearing. His Honour wrote: “The professions need to recognise that enough is enough. It is no use the court continuing feebly to issue empty threats.” He threatened to impose “financial penalties” and “public condemnation in judgments in which they are named”. If they failed to work, “delinquents will be summoned to explain themselves in open court”. The courts’ frustration with excessively prolix lawyers has a long history, and fines and public shaming are some of the oldest punishments. In the 1596 case of Mylward v Weldon, a solicitor prepared a 120 page document that could have been reduced to 16 pages. As punishment, the English Court of Chancery ordered a prison warden to “cut a hole in the myddest” of the document and “put the said Richard’s head through the same hole, and so let the same replication hang about his shoulders, with the written side outward”, before parading him before all of the Courts at Westminster Hall while they were sitting. He was then to be imprisoned until he paid a substantial fine. Plus ça change…

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