Judges should give shorter, more concise, rulings and should refrain from issuing concurring or dissenting judgments except when absolutely necessary, the president of the Supreme Court has urged.
Court judgments should also be able to be understood by the growing number of self-represented litigants and the judiciary should take action to reduce trial bundles, Lord Neuberger suggested.
He lamented the decline of newspaper-led legal reporting and commented that bloggers are no substitute for media court reporters.
Giving the first annual British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) lecture, the judge praised the institute for providing access to judgments. But he warned that in future, the public “audience” for legal rulings would need to understand the thrust of each case.
Meanwhile, he observed that while BAILII is a resource that “provides an essential service to the public”, it is also partly responsible for “the enormous increase in the size of bundles of authorities at court hearings”.
The judiciary should discourage “the extensive citation of cases arising from the fact that virtually every UK court and tribunal decision, and indeed every Luxembourg and Strasbourg court decision, is available at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse”.
Judges’ approach to judgments “has historically tended to be one where our contemplated readership consisted solely of professional and academic lawyers and fellow judges”, he said. However: “The fact that it crucially includes the parties to the litigation and future litigants (who will often be self-represented) and (when they are not) their advisers, emphasises the need for courts at all levels to explain as clearly and as shortly as possible, the facts, issues, outcome and reasons.”
He concluded: “Judgments must speak now not just to a professional audience, but they must also be capable of speaking clearly to a lay audience, prospective self-represented litigants and citizens generally. The rule of law requires it.”
He suggested that each judgment should be accompanied by a short summary “sufficient to enable a non-lawyer to know the facts, the issues, and how and why they were resolved”. Also, judges should “take a more rigorous approach to cutting the length of their judgments” by weeding out the otiose and by removing “unnecessary displays of learning”.
Dissenting and concurring judgments should be issued only when they add something important to the ruling, Lord Neuberger said, although he acknowledged the proposal “may be seen by some to impinge on judicial independence”.
The judge said both the dissemination of judgments – such as by BAILII – and the official law reports were “fundamentally important” and “support the rule of law”. He regretted that “it is one of the weaknesses of our time that newspapers no longer report legal proceedings as fully or extensively as they once did”. The growth of legal blogging and tweeting was a poor substitute for “the decline of the media court reporter”.