JUDGMENT MUST GIVE REASONS (AND NOT SIMPLY INCORPORATE A SKELETON ARGUMENT): THE BAKERS CAN CHALLENGE THEIR ELECTRICITY BILL
In Fine Lady Bakeries Ltd v EDF Energy Customers Ltd & Anor  EWHC 87 (QB) Mrs Justice Farbey allowed an appeal against a Deputy District Judge who had granted summary judgment. The case emphasises the need for a judge to give a full judgment.
“Nothing in the CPR’s overriding objective, mentioned by the judge, justified the failure to exercise independent judgment. The CPR – including the overriding objective – are designed to promote the just disposal of cases. Concerns about the slow progress of the case and the use of court time cannot override the duty to give a proper judgment. The CPR themselves provide ample case management tools which the judge could have used to mitigate his concerns.”
The claimant brought an action alleging it had been overcharged for electricity. The defendants made an application for summary judgment. That application was allowed by a Deputy District Judge.
THE CLAIMANT’S APPEAL
The claimant appealed. One of the grounds of appeal was that the judgment had incorporated the defendants’ skeleton argument to an impermissible degree.
“The grounds of appeal are numerous but fall into three principal categories. First, it is submitted that the judge made a serious procedural error because his judgment incorporated the defendants’ skeleton arguments to an impermissible degree. Secondly, the judge failed to recognise that the claims against EDF and EON were not suitable for summary determination. Thirdly, the judge failed to consider the claimant’s argument that there was some other compelling reason for trial on account of the complexity of the issues, their interaction with the regulatory framework governing the supply of electricity to consumers, and their potentially wide significance in the energy market”
THE DECISION ON APPEAL
The appeal was allowed. Mrs Justice Farbey agreed with the claimant that the judgment was not adequate.
I agree with Mr Rothschild supported by Mr Watkins that no hard and fast rule required the judge to set out the test for summary judgment, which was not in dispute and which is well-established as a matter of law. Setting out the test would perhaps have assisted the judge to deliver a more structured judgment but I am not prepared to infer that the judge did not have it in mind. I also accept Mr Rothschild’s submission that the judge’s failure to mention the burden of proof does not appear to have led in itself to injustice.
Nor was the judge obliged to deal with every aspect of Mr Mountford’s submissions. Brevity, however, should not come at the expense of giving proper reasons and of demonstrating the application of independent analysis to the critical issues in the case.
Mr Rothschild emphasised that the parties are commercial entities represented by specialist solicitors and counsel. There was no need to set out the legal issues which would have been known to the parties after the detailed legal arguments that had been ventilated fully in court over the course of more than one day. The judge’s reasoning was truncated but, upon analysis, comprehensible and adequate to enable the sophisticated parties to understand how he had reached his conclusions.
I reject Mr Rothschild’s submissions. The sophisticated nature of litigants who may be parties to a claim does not mean that they are not entitled to a properly reasoned judgment. The claimant in this case was entitled to a judgment telling it why the defendants had won and why the claimant had lost. That entitlement was not diminished because the claimant had the resources to seek legal advice after judgment in order for its lawyers (however specialist and skilful they may be) to read between the lines of a judgment and to fill in the gaps in an endeavour to explain why the case had been lost. In any event, the judgment failed to deal with the claimant’s side of the arguments and so its lawyers would have been unable to give such advice.
In my judgment, the approach of the Deputy District Judge was inadequate. He relied on, or incorporated, the defendants’ skeleton arguments within his judgment to an impermissible degree and at the expense of his own reasoning. Having made bare and perfunctory reference to the claimant’s submission that the case was complex and to the claimant’s reminder that disclosure had not yet taken place, he thereafter failed to set out, consider or deal with any of the claimant’s arguments: the judgment is silent about what Mr Mountford submitted to the judge and silent as to the judge’s consideration of Mr Mountford’s submissions. This is not a case where the judge has dealt with the main points raised by the claimant succinctly but decided that it would be disproportionate to deal with every submission. In this case, the judgment does not demonstrate how the judge brought independent judgment to bear on any of the claimant’s arguments.
Nothing in the CPR’s overriding objective, mentioned by the judge, justified the failure to exercise independent judgment. The CPR – including the overriding objective – are designed to promote the just disposal of cases. Concerns about the slow progress of the case and the use of court time cannot override the duty to give a proper judgment. The CPR themselves provide ample case management tools which the judge could have used to mitigate his concerns.