Skeleton arguments are commonly filed by parties in civil
proceedings and have to be filed in appeal proceedings (and the CPR
provides detailed provisions about the nature and content of
skeleton arguments for an appeal). They will usually be drafted by
counsel and are intended to set out the parties' arguments for
the benefit of the court. A great deal of time and expense is
usually spent on them in the run-up to a trial.
A recent Court of Appeal case, Standard Bank PLC v Via Mat
International Ltd1, (in which Clyde & Co acted
for the respondent) has fired a warning shot that the costs of
preparation could be disallowed if skeleton arguments are not kept
as concise as possible. The appellant's skeleton and
supplementary skeleton arguments ran to 93 pages. Both Moore-Bick
LJ and Aikens LJ, in a postscript to the case, expressed concern
about the length of skeleton arguments in general.
They emphasised that the purpose behind a skeleton argument is
to inform the court of the essential elements of the parties'
submissions, so allowing the court to clearly understand the issues
and arguments which it will have to consider. As Aikens LJ put it,
the aim is to "clarify and simplify the issues or to shorten
It was stressed that skeleton arguments should not be used
"to serve as vehicles for extended advocacy" and, in
general, "a short, concise skeleton is both more helpful to
the court and more likely to be persuasive than a longer
Reference was also made to prior caselaw in which the courts
have cautioned against the use of overly-long skeleton arguments.
These cases stretch as far back as the 16th century, where, in one
instance (referred to by Aikens LJ) the Lord Keeper ordered the son
of a litigant to be put in the stocks for having produced a
pleading of "six score sheets of paper".
Fortunately in this case, the Court of Appeal did not resort to
such extreme measures. However, Moore-Bick LJ did repeat his view
that the best way to alleviate the increasing burden on the court
which overly-long skeleton arguments impose would be for courts to
be far more willing in the future to disallow all or part of the
costs of such skeleton arguments. Aikens LJ too advised that a
failure to heed the need for brevity in pleadings may well lead to
strict adverse costs orders in future.
As the comments of Moore-Bick LJ and Aikens LJ make clear, the
courts' disapproval of overly-long skeleton arguments is not
new. However, post the Jackson reforms, and given the increasing
emphasis of the courts on the need to conduct litigation
proportionately and to manage the courts' resources
appropriately, the warning provided in this case should be heeded
by practitioners and clients alike. If care is not taken to ensure
that pleadings (and other court documents) are kept as short as
possible, parties are likely to face important costs
1  EWCA Civ 490
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The Court of Appeal's decision in this case was reported in Weekly Update 5/15. The insured solicitors had arranged funding for disbursements incurred by their clients in order to pursue personal injury claims.
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