Most legal documents are written with numbered paragraphs. For example:
- Mr Smith worked for Grindles Ltd as an assembler. He was employed between 21st September 1998 and 3rd December 2007.
- In September 2007 Mr Smith began experiencing difficulties with his left leg, which affected his mobility. His GP diagnosed him with early onset arthritis and referred him to a specialist consultation, Dr Hobbs.
The great advantage of this system is that it allows easy reference to specific parts of documents. If all of the witness statements have numbered paragraphs it is easy to identify individual parts of the evidence. This is extremely useful during the hearing. Witnesses can be referred to what they, or others, have said; the tribunal can be reminded of particular evidence and so on. And the same applies to other types of documents. It is useful to be able to reference parts of the ET1 or written submissions easily.
It is therefore well worth getting into the habit of using numbered paragraphs in any legal document other than a short letter.
There is nothing terribly complicated about doing this, but the following guidelines may help you avoid common pitfalls:
Use an automatic numbering system
Word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, have automatic tools for numbering lists. It is worth spending a few minutes learning how to use them. This will save time and effort, since otherwise adding, deleting or splitting paragraphs means you have to manually renumber the whole document.
The convention in legal documents is that sub-paragraphs are numbered as follows:
- 3. Paragraph
- 3.1. Sub-paragraph
- 3.1.1 Sub-sub-paragraph
The problem with this is that it is easy to get yourself in a position where you frequently need to write or, worse, say things like “See paragraph 3.3.4.” This makes referring to paragraphs difficult and complex – defeating the point of paragraph numbering in the first place.
It also creates difficulties for the reader, because they have to keep track of the structure of your document.
The main cause of excessive sub-paragraphs is that the writer uses them wherever the next paragraph follows on from a previous idea. For example:
- 9. The dismissal was automatically unfair, because the reason for dismissal was that Ms Hendricks had made a protective disclosure.
- 9.1. A statement made by an employee to her employer is protected, if she reasonably believed that the information tends to show that a criminal offence has been committed or that a person has failed to comply with any legal obligation to which he is subject.
- 9.1.1 Ms Hendricks’ statement that she believed that the companies accountant was siphoning money from client accounts and the evidence she produced in support of this allegation met this test.
There is no advantage to using sub-paragraphs in this way. The information would be better presented as paragraphs 9, 10 and 11, without indentation or sub-numbering.
A more appropriate use of sub-paragraphs is to present a list of information. For example:
- 17. After raising a grievance Mr Jones was subject to further harassment on the basis of his race:
- 17.1. On the 3rd December 2007 Mr Smith told him that he should “go back to where you came from”.
- 17.2. On the 6th December 2007 Mr Smith, referring to Mr Jones’ work “This is rubbish, but what can I expect?”.
Do not number headings
Many people attempt to number headings as well as paragraphs. This is a mistake.
Firstly, it is very rare that you will want to refer anybody to a heading, so the numbering is unnecessary. Secondly, numbered headings make the sub-paragraph numbering problem worse. For example:
4. Unfair Dismissal
- 4.1. Procedural Fairness
- 4.1.1. The dismissal was procedurally unfair because the respondent failed to follow the statutory dismissal procedure.
Bulletpoints are an alternative to paragraph numbers. For example:
- The dismissal was procedurally unfair.
- This dismissal was substantively unfair.
- The dismissal was an act of discrimination
The problem with bullets is that that you cannot refer to them directly. This forces you into phrases like “The second bullet from the bottom on page seven”. It is more sensible to stick to paragraph numbers.
Do not number quotes
You will often want to quote other documents in your writing. Quotes should be indented, but not numbered. For example:
23. The correct approach to mitigation of loss was set out by Lord Justice Sedley in Wilding v British Telecommunications  ICR 1079:
- In other words it is not enough for the wrongdoer to show that it would have been reasonable to take the steps he has proposed: he must show that it was unreasonable of the innocent party not to take them.
If you want to refer to the quote, you can say “The quotation at paragraph 22″.