In the case of Crinion and Crinion vs. I.G. Markets Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 587 the Court of Appeal has strongly criticised a first-instance decision on the grounds that almost all of the judgment was taken word-for-word from Counsel’s written submissions. 

Facts

The case involved a father and son who had set up a company offering investments in the trading of contracts for differences. They set up several accounts with I.G. Markets Ltd in order to facilitate the business. After a couple of years, substantial debts had been run up on all accounts and I.G. Markets Ltd commenced proceedings for their recovery.

The issues in the case raised questions of both fact and law, and the questions of fact depended largely on the witness evidence. The evidence was heard over a couple of days, with Counsel on both sides then being invited to submit written submissions. HH Judge Simon Brown QC upheld the claims of I.G. Markets Ltd in full.

Upon reading the judgment, it was clear that almost all of the content had been taken verbatim from the closing submissions of Mr Chirnside, who represented the claimant. The father and son appealed on the grounds that the judgment amounted to such a serious procedural irregularity that the decision was unjust.

Appeal

Sitting as the Court of Appeal panel, Longmore LJ, Underhill LJ and Sir Stephen Sedley scrutinised the first-instant judgment carefully, and criticised the plagiarism of HH Judge Simon Brown QC as being “thoroughly bad practice”.

Underhill LJ noted that HH Judge Simon Brown QC had made no changes at all to the overall structure of Mr Chirnside’s submissions, which had been provided to the judge in electronic format. All the headings remained the same and a small number of verbal and mechanical changes were made to convert the submissions into a judgment. Underhill LJ was inclined to agree with the Appellant’s calculation that some 94% of the judgment remained unaltered from its original wording.

The Appellant argued that HH Judge Simon Brown QC had based his judgment on Mr Chirnside’s submissions to such an extent that it created the overall impression of the judge having abdicated his core judicial responsibility to think for himself on the issues to be decided. Underhill LJ agreed that the judgment was likely to give the impression that HH Judge Simon Brown QC failed to consider both parties’ cases independently and even-handedly.

However, despite the condemnation of way in which the first-instant judgment had been presented, the appeal was dismissed unanimously. It was held, albeit not without some hesitation, that HH Judge Simon Brown QC had performed his essential judicial role and that his reason for deciding the issues in the way that he did were sufficiently apparent.

Comment

This is an important decision which looks at the issues surrounding the use of computer technology in court proceedings. It would seem that a balance needs to be struck between using such technology to deal with cases expediently and effectively, whilst ensuring that neither party is left feeling as though their case has not been properly considered.

This decision is a clear illustration of the fundamental principle that not only must justice be done, but it must also be seen to be done.