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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

15 FEB 2017

A judgment of words and numbers

A judgment of words and numbers

The government’s bill allowing for it to trigger Article 50 had but two clauses and 137 words (this article has three times as many), yet in many quarters was criticised for its brevity. A similar minimalistic approach by the Court of Appeal has in contrast brought almost universal enthusiasm.

The case in question BS (Congo) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] EWCA Civ 53 concerned an African immigrant and whether or not he should be deported from the UK. The court dismissed the government’s appeal and ruled that he could not be removed from the country, despite being convicted of a criminal activity.

Of greater interest was the fact that the 'short judgment' by Lady Justice Rafferty was merely 24 paragraphs long and ran to fewer than 1,200 words. She confirmed that:

'This is a short form judgment which, with the encouragement of Sir Terence Etherton MR, judges of the Court of Appeal may in future use for appellate decisions in appropriate cases. This appeal raises no issue of law, precedent or other matters of general significance and the relevant facts and documentary material are set out in the judgment under appeal and are not in dispute.'

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The key to its brevity is of course that last sentence: that this was a relatively simple case for the court to consider.

I have far too often, sat scribbling, every word from judgments often lasting more than two or more hours. It can be painstaking and dare I say, on occasion laborious. In straightforward cases this marks a departure from the long-standing tradition of long, invariably wordy judgments, but it should be noted that this is part of a concerted effort by the judiciary. There is a very conscious agenda by the Master of the Rolls to simplify judgments. Legal commentators were rightly excited by the judgment of Mr Justice Peter Jackson in Lancashire County Council v M [2016] EWFC 9, due to its use of plain English. That judgment was clear, concise and very easy to read. The work of Lady Justice Rafferty appears to be more of the same. That said, from a cursory look at www.familylaw.co.uk the latest case, of Norman v Norman [2017] EWCA Civ 49 runs to 14,967 words, but as Lady Justice Gloster confirms therein that 'this case raises important issues…'

It is as ever with the law, a matter of balance or indeed one of judgment.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing.
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