Tough talk on skeleton prolix

“Mild rebukes to counsel” and “gentle comments in judgments” are failing to get the message across that too many skeleton arguments remain “poor quality” and of “excessive length”, Lord Justice Jackson has warned.

Delivering the public reprimand in Inplayer Ltd & Anor v Thorogood [2014] EWCA Civ 1511, Jackson LJ said that in spite of previous judicial protests and the threat of costs penalties “so far, unfortunately, this message has failed to reach the profession...with regret, I must speak more bluntly.”

“As anyone who has drafted skeleton arguments knows, the task is not rocket science. It just requires a few minutes clear thought and planning before you start. A good skeleton argument (of which we receive many) is a real help to judges when they are pre-reading the (usually voluminous) bundles. A bad skeleton argument simply adds to the paper jungle through which judges must hack their way in an effort to identify the issues and the competing arguments.

“A good skeleton argument is a real aid to the court during and after the hearing. A bad skeleton argument may be so unhelpful that the court simply proceeds on the basis of the grounds of appeal and whatever counsel says on the day.

“The appellant’s skeleton argument in this case does not comply with the rules,” he continued. “It is 35 pages of rambling prolixity through which the reader must struggle to track down the relevant facts, issues and arguments.”

The successful appellant, represented by the Law Society Excellence Awards Solicitor Advocate of the Year 2014, Adam Tear, was entitled to costs but could not recover the costs of the skeleton argument, he ruled.