How to write a Skeleton Argument for Court
How To Write a Case Brief: The Complete Guide
Legal professionals are required to produce many legal documents for each of their cases. Each document must be written and formatted specifically to the existing standards set forth by the court system in order to effectively present their case arguments. This article will focus on case briefs, specifically what they are, how to write a case brief and the purpose they serve.
A case brief is a summarized analysis of a legal argument. This document—sometimes referred to as a “legal brief” or a “case summary”—is written for the purpose of stating a party’s legal argument in a court case in a distilled, comprehensible way. Most of the time, this document is for your own reference.
In appellate courts, however, each side of a case presents their own brief to the court as a way of briefly stating their specific argument using case law precedents, statistics and policy arguments to help the judge make a decision. The petitioner usually files their brief first, and the respondent has a specified amount of time to file a reply brief. These documents are often public record, accessible to anyone who wishes to search for it.
How long should a skeleton argument be?
What the Court of Appeal says
- [. the rules of court set out the rules for skeleton arguments] These rules do not exist for the benefit of judges or lawyers. They exist for the benefit of litigants, namely (a) to ensure that their contentions are presented most effectively to the court and (b) to enable the court to deal with its caseload expeditiously, bearing in mind that there is always a queue of appellants and respondents waiting for their matters to be heard.
- In essence an appellant’s skeleton should provide a concise, user friendly introduction for the benefit of the three judges who will probably have had no previous involvement in the case. The skeleton should then set out the points to be argued clearly and concisely, with cross-references to relevant documents and authorities, in the manner prescribed by [the Civil Procedure Rules]. The skeleton should not normally exceed 25 pages. Usually it will be much shorter. In a straightforward case like this the skeleton argument would, or at least should, be much less than 25 pages.
- [. ] A good skeleton argument (of which we receive many) is a real help to judges when they are pre-reading the (usually voluminous) bundles. A bad skeleton argument simply adds to the paper jungle through which judges must hack their way in an effort to identify the issues and the competing arguments. A good skeleton argument is a real aid to the court during and after the hearing. A bad skeleton argument may be so unhelpful that the court simply proceeds on the basis of the grounds of appeal and whatever counsel says on the day.
- The skill in drafting a skeleton argument lies in the production of a concise outline of the essential elements of the argument which is to be developed orally in court.
- It is evident that the authors of the skeletons in the present case were proceeding on the assumption that they could demand of the court such judicial time as they thought necessary. In that they were mistaken. The length of the written argument means that the vast bulk of such pre-reading time as was allowed had to be devoted to reading them, rather than underlying documents. In fact, in this case, the length and complexity of the written argument served to obfuscate the real issues in the case. In truth, these were not skeleton arguments at all; the arguments contained in these documents were fully fleshed out and dressed in much unnecessary finery.