Don’t make the reader clamber over a pile of scaffolding

1.  In this skeleton argument, references to pages of the core bundle will be in square brackets, in bold print, with the prefix “core.” References to numbered pages of the supplementary bundle will be in bold square brackets with the prefix “supp.”

2.  This is an appeal from the decision of the Watford Employment Tribunal (“the ET”) to uphold a complaint of unfair dismissal by the Respondent (the Claimant below, and hereafter referred to as “the Claimant”) against the  Appellant Council (the Respondent in the ET claim, and hereafter referred to as “the Council.”)

3.  On 7 April 2012, the EAT (Baggins J) ordered that the appeal be set down for a full hearing [core/1-2].

Skeleton arguments and written submissions often begin with stuff like this: information about how the document should be read, the procedural history of the case and so on. It makes me think of scaffolding because it was functional once, but by the time the building’s finished it should all have been tidied away out of sight.

It’s true, no doubt, that the average judge starting to read a skeleton argument or set of written submissions isn’t expecting much in the way of laugh-out-loud moments, or goose-pimple thrills. But all the same: it’s safe to assume that your judge is clever, busy, and in a hurry. These sorts of introductory paragraphs are a bad use of the limited time and attention she has to spend on your case. They’re an especially bad use of the first few moments of it.

Paragraph 1 tells the judge something she can be expected to guess without difficulty. She’s been given a bundle called ‘core bundle,’ and another bundle called ‘supplementary bundle.’ If you put a reference that goes [core 48] in your skeleton, what’s she likely to think you mean? Is she going to start hunting around for apple cores, or is she going to reach for the core bundle and turn to page 48?

Paragraph 2 starts by repeating information contained in the notice of appeal. Why? Then it tells the judge how you’re going to refer to the parties. But if the claim was an unfair dismissal claim brought against a local authority, the expressions ‘the Claimant’ and ‘the Council’ are perfectly clear without explanation.

Paragraph 3 tells the judge something else she can be taken to know. You’re all there, aren’t you? So someone must have let the appeal through to a full hearing; and the order will be in the bundle.

So get on with it. Say something meaningful in your first paragraph that helps the court get a grip on what the case is all about – and, ideally, does so in a way that improves your chances of winning.

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