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Lord Justice Picks A Bone With “Overlapping” Skeleton Argument

Skeleton argument
20th October 2014

An additional “skeleton argument” nearly fifty pages long, which was served one week before a court of appeal hearing has led to a critical panning from Lord Justice Jackson.

A skeleton argument is a written document issued in advance summarising the “bare bones” of the case, to which, further material is to be added. The purpose is to provide a platform for the advocate to make the party's case during oral submissions, according to civil procedure rules. However, some advocates may choose to ignore the instructions and produce lengthy “skeletons”, which fail to focus on the case issues.

In an ongoing commercial litigation, The Lord Justice complained of “substantial non-compliance” with an overtly verbose and long-winded first skeleton document, which was 47 pages long. A supplementary skeleton comprised 34 pages and an appendix of 15 pages long was found to have a “substantial degree of overlap” between the two skeleton arguments.

“Serious purpose”

Identifying 21 paragraphs of the additional document to be retained “and which should preferably have been included in the original skeleton argument”, LJ Jackson said that concise rules for skeleton arguments exist “for a serious purpose, namely to enable the Court of Appeal to deal with its business in a timely and efficient manner.”

Jackson made it clear that there would be no special treatment granted in commercial court litigation, to which fellow judge, Lady Justice Sharp agreed, saying there had been “gross” non-compliance in the ongoing case, adding that  “length obscures the points”, which are relevant rather than assisting in the resolution of an appeal.

In April 2013, the “Jackson Reforms” were set out by the Lord Justice, aimed at “tightening up” court procedure to ensure that litigation is proportionate and cases would not be prolonged unnecessarily. Advocates were expected to adopt a more stringent approach in the way claims are handled. As a result, the courts now look very carefully at determining if solicitors are acting promptly and efficiently, as required by the new rules.