Short, old-style rulings that lay out the legal propositions relevant to the case and the conclusions reached by applying them should help reduce the cost litigation, the Court of Appeal has suggested.
Lord Justice Mummery said one aim of shorter rulings would be “to stem the soaring costs of litigants when their advisers have to spend too long working out what the law is”.
He continued: “They may be faced with a multiplicity of separate, complex, discursive and (increasingly, imitating the style of subordinate legislation) cross-referential judicial pronouncements at different levels of decision, or at the same level of decision, but sometimes leading to the same overall result.”
His comments came towards the end of a ruling yesterday in Neumans LLP v Andrew Andronikou & Ors  EWCA Civ 916, a case about solicitors’ fees arising from the liquidation of Portsmouth Football Club.
Dismissing the appeal and praising the ruling of Mr Justice Morgan, the judge asked: “What sensible purpose could be served by this court repeating in its judgments detailed discussions of every point raised in the grounds of appeal and the skeleton arguments when they have already been dealt with correctly and in detail in the judgment under appeal? No purpose at all, in my view.”
He said it was a case in which this court was justified in following the “excellent lead” of Lord Wilberforce in Brumby v Milner (1975) 51 TC 583. In a one-page tax opinion, with which the other members of the Appellate Committee agreed with only minor additions, Lord Wilberforce said he would not attempt a detailed analysis or refer to such authorities as might possibly be relevant, since that had been done to his complete satisfaction by the Court of Appeal affirming the judgment of Walton J.
Mummery LJ said: “It has been said, more in jest than with justice, that ‘officials create work for other officials’ and that bureaucracies generate work to justify their continued existence. Judges are not officials. The judiciary is not a bureaucracy. Nor is it in the business of earning by churning.
“The proper administration of justice does not require this court to create work for itself, for other judges, for practitioners and for the public by producing yet another long and complicated judgment only to repeat what has already been fully explained in a sound judgment under appeal.
“If the judgment in the court below is correct, this court can legitimately adopt and affirm it without any obligation to say the same things over again in different words. The losing party will be told exactly why the appeal was dismissed: there was nothing wrong with the decision appealed or the reasons for it.”
Partly out of “admiration” for Morgan J’s decision and “partly as an aid to practitioners and courts in future cases”, he chose to approach the appeal court’s ruling by piecing together a brief summary of the main points, as described at length by Morgan J.
“It can do so, as in an old style judgment, by setting out short legal propositions relevant to this case and the conclusions reached by applying them in this case. It does not begin to attempt to cover all the law on administration and liquidation expenses. That would not be a proper exercise in a judgment.”
In the substantive case, solicitors Neumans were seeking to recover fees for acting for Portsmouth in opposing a winding-up petition brought by HM Revenue & Customs. The company eventually went into insolvent liquidation but only after joint administrators had been appointed out of court.
Neumans had argued that solicitors’ fees are an administration expense but Morgan J ruled that the court only has jurisdiction to allow the fees as an expense in the subsequent liquidation, noting that the Insolvency Rules 1986 made no provision for payment as the firm had claimed.