Judging judgments: lessons in plain English and good presentation

Judging judgments: lessons in plain English and good presentation

Last week, we looked at the recent research undertaken in the US on briefs presented to the Supreme Court and the lessons that all lawyers can learn from them ('How to write legal documents that work: tips from top judges').

In essence, the clearer you are in your writing and presentation of it the more you are likely to win.

Today, we are back on the drizzly and cold side of the Atlantic and are looking at another aspect of legal writing: judgments.

These judicial pronouncements are a key component of the machinery of the common law.

So are they a well-oiled machine, or do they clack, clang and clatter with great confidence but, ultimately, those who are trying to read them haven’t got a clue as to what’s going on?

Let’s look at the speech given on this subject by the (hip hop listening) President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury.

Although it was given a few years ago, there’s still plenty in it which is of relevance to all lawyers.

He believes that, even though judges are able to deal with ‘rubbish in/ rubbish out’, this is no excuse for rubbish drafting:

the fact that legal professionals are trained to read Judgments is no excuse for poor Judgment-writing. It is like suggesting that statutes don’t need to be well-drafted because lawyers and judges are adept at interpreting them.

He adds that:

Judgments must speak as clearly as possible to the public. This is not to suggest that Judgments could, or even should, aim to be bestsellers.

Concluding that:

Chance would be a fine thing.


So why are clear judgments a necessity as opposed to a ‘nice-to-ha

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