TOO MANY DOCUMENTS SPOIL THE CASE: APPLICATIONS SHOULD BE CONDUCTED PROPORTIONALLY
In Alsaifi -v- Amunwa  EWHC 1443 QB Mr Justice Warby reminded parties of the need for bundles and documents to be relevant and proportional.
“I make these points to emphasise the importance of parties to litigation of this kind ensuring that they conduct their cases proportionately. Parties have a duty to help the court to ensure that the case is conducted in accordance with the overriding objective. It is unreasonable, and tends to obstruct that objective, if the parties deluge the court with so much written material on an application of this kind”
The judge was hearing a preliminary application to determine whether certain publications could be defamatory.
“The issues I have identified are relatively narrow in scope, and do not require or admit of any substantial volume of evidence. The question of meaning is in this, as in most cases, a matter for resolution by applying settled principles to the particular statement(s) complained of. In this case the statement is quite short. Evidence as to meaning is in general inadmissible. As will be clear from the statements of principle which I set out below, the court is required to avoid over-elaborate analysis and must treat the issue of meaning as one of impression. It is therefore wrong to allow the parties to press the court in argument with minute textual analysis, which will generally tend to distract rather than assist. The other main task which the applications require is a comparison of the Article with the Appeal Judgment, to determine whether the one could be found at a trial to be an unfair or inaccurate report of the other. That is a matter capable in principle of sustained and serious argument, but not one that depends, or could turn, on evidence of any facts extraneous to the two documents in question.
Both parties nonetheless submitted a substantial volume of evidence. Mr Amunwa’s case was set out in a witness statement and exhibits of Mr Ramdarshan. Appropriately, the exhibits consist only of the Appeal Judgment and the Article. The statement itself runs, however, to 67 paragraphs over 18 pages. A large proportion of this consists of argument as to meaning, the availability of a privilege defence, and the issue of serious harm which has not in the event been pursued. Mr Alsaifi filed a witness statement consisting of 107 paragraphs, covering 25 pages of single-spaced text, together with a 339 page “Bundle of Evidence” and other documents. Some, but relatively little of Mr Alsaifi’s witness statement and evidence was relevant to his own application. In fairness to him, the nature of the defence application meant that he was entitled to address evidentially the issues of malice and serious harm, and he did so. But his materials did show a lack of focus. The statement also contained a good deal of argument. It was supplemented by a 4,000 word skeleton argument.
I make these points to emphasise the importance of parties to litigation of this kind ensuring that they conduct their cases proportionately. Parties have a duty to help the court to ensure that the case is conducted in accordance with the overriding objective. It is unreasonable, and tends to obstruct that objective, if the parties deluge the court with so much written material on an application of this kind. As I told the parties at the hearing, I deliberately paid scant attention to the many pages of argument about meaning that were contained in the evidence, focusing my attention instead on reading the words complained of for myself. I took this approach for three main reasons. First, evidence as to meaning is strictly speaking inadmissible. Secondly, this approach accords with the principles governing the determination of meaning, set out below. Thirdly, and perhaps consequentially, this approach accords with the overriding objective, not least the principle of proportionality and the need to allocate to any given case a share of the court’s resources that is appropriate, and not excessive.”
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