To roars of support on Twitter, St John’s Chambers barrister Lucy Reed slams family division chief’s court document rant
Sir James Munby reckons that lawyers who exceed the page limits for their bundles are “delinquents”, who, if they don’t buck up their ideas, should be shamed by a “special delinquents’ court”.
The row began on Thursday after Munby delivered a stinging attack on lawyers who fail to adhere to bundle rules. The top judge’s words came in the appeal of a judgment (embedded in full below) where a Slovenian father was awarded £23,000 in legal aid to have 591 pages of his daughter’s custody case translated from English to Slovene.
Slamming lawyers’ failure to comply with Bundles Practice Direction FPR 2010 PD 27A — which requires that “the bundle shall be contained in one A4 size ring binder or lever arch file limited to no more than 350 sheets of A4 paper and 350 sides of text” — Munby bellowed:
“The professions need to recognise that enough is enough. It is no use the court continuing feebly to issue empty threats. From now on delinquents can expect to find themselves subject to effective sanctions … If, despite this final wake-up call, matters do not improve I may be driven to consider setting up the special delinquents’ court suggested by Mostyn J.”
Those sanctions include the destruction without notice of documents which exceed the specified bundle size.
Many lawyers felt all this was a bit harsh, with the “delinquents” tag and accompanying “special delinquents’ court” brainwave — which as Munby acknowledges came via Lord Justice Mostyn — causing particular unease.
And over the weekend Reed took to her blog to articulate these thoughts, pointing out that “here in the stalls the bundle situation is not exactly peachy either”. She continues:
“The reality is that nobody has any power to control what goes into the bundle because the LA [local authority] control the index. There is no opportunity to liaise about indexes because the index arrives late if at all and is inevitably wrong because it has been completed by some administrative assistant who wouldn’t know PD27A if you slapped them in the face with it.”
Rounding off, Reed adds:
“Look, I don’t want to point the finger. But the sprinklers are going off and ‘it wos the LA, Miss!'”
Of course, as Reed goes on to explain, austerity-hit local authorities are currently hugely overstretched and so absolved of any real blame.
“That is to say, bundles are (understandably, dare I say it) not the top of the priority list for overstretched LAs,” she writes. “Getting final evidence of sufficient quality prepared and filed within increasingly tight timescales is understandably higher up the list than the pagination of said evidence (although in some LAs not, it appears, quite as high up the priority list as it ought to be).”
So, to conclude, the bundle situation is basically no one’s fault — other than the government’s. Time to direct your public ire at Chris Grayling and pals instead, Sir James?