Judge blasts “lamentable” applications and non-compliant skeletons

Halpern: Skeletons were of little use

A deputy High Court judge has hit out at the “lamentable” way applications before him were prepared, including non-compliant and late skeleton arguments from counsel.

Mr David Halpern QC disallowed all the costs of the hearing as a result and said that his ruling should be drawn to the attention of any judge hearing further interim applications and the master at any case management conference.

Ahmed & Anor v Ahmed [2021] EWHC 1021 (Ch) is a dispute between two brothers and the judge noted that the proceedings, which only started last November, “have already spawned a number of interim hearings between the parties, which appear to be have been characterised by point-scoring on each side, without either party making any real attempt to narrow the issues or assist the court in accordance with the overriding objective”.

Having allocated 21 April to read the papers ahead of the hearing the following day, the judge said there was no skeleton argument from either counsel.

“After spending some time reading [the claimants’ 747-page bundle], I guessed that the application before me was the claimant’s application of 25 January which begins on page 189 of the bundle.

“After the court chased Mr Kamar Uddin, who appears for the claimants, he asked at 14.27 if he could submit his skeleton by 22.00. The court told him that this was unacceptable and his skeleton was then received at 15.19.”

The skeleton did not comply with the Chancery Guide. It failed to list the issues he was being asked to decide, or include a chronology and reading list, Mr Halpern complained.

The skeleton from the defendant’s counsel, Anawar Miah, was not emailed to the court until after hours and the judge only received it an hour before the start of the hearing. It contained a reading list the barrister estimated would take the judge two hours to read.

Mr Miah blamed his non-compliance with the Chancery Guide on the claimants’ bundle and also said he was only briefed at the last minute.

The judge observed: “I see from his solicitor’s website that he is married to the senior partner and is described as a consultant to the firm; I note that he did not tell me that he was unaware of the case before yesterday.”

The skeleton arguments gave him “very little help in understanding what I am being asked to decide or how I am to decide it”, while the witness statements were not much better, “consisting as they do of sweeping allegations and counter-allegations”.

Mr Halpern said he adjourned the hearing for half an hour to see if counsel were able to narrow, or at least define, the issues for the hearing, “in accordance with the level of cooperation which the court is entitled to expect from the Bar”.

They failed to do so, but the judge said he resisted the temptation to say “a plague on both your houses”.

He went on to devise an order aimed at “hold[ing] the ring as far as possible until trial” and discouraging the parties from “further interim applications and further time-wasting”.

He added: “In view of the lamentable way in which both these applications have been prepared, I disallow all the costs of today.”

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