Starting with the premise that “Judges start with an instinctive view and work backwards to justify it”, Jonathan made some practical suggestions for skeleton arguments and oral advocacy. Here are five out of a much longer list that will be at the forefront of my mind when I appear in the Court of Appeal:

  • The first paragraph of a skeleton should grab the judge with an interesting legal principle or interesting facts. It should not begin
    “this is the hearing of …..”.
  • “Bad points drive out good points”. List your points in order of merit and briefly set out your position on them.
  • Make it as pithy as possible. Use unusual turns of phrase.
  • Forget your skeleton once the hearing begins – do not make your oral presentation a mere commentary on your skeleton, but say
    things freshly so the judge listens to you rather than reads.
  • Add historical or social context to make what you say more interesting. The evening ended with questions to JS from the floor.

Perhaps the best question was “What can you do about the difficult judge?”. To this JS said “You can’t force him to listen, you can only hope he makes a real mess of the judgment. It is good to lose as comprehensively and unfairly as possible to make it easier in the Court of Appeal”. Alas, that such this excellent advice should be of such small comfort in civil work – with permission to appeal nearly always required, the judge rarely giving it and the costs of seeking permission from the Court of Appeal so high, the difficult judge may well escape his come-uppance.