Re L: Practice guidance on bundles and translating documents
The President’s judgment in Re L  EWFC 15 has gathered attention for the fact that it is probably the first recorded judgment to lay down practice guidance on the proper size for lever-arch files. As well as emphasising that bundles should be in an A4 file, not a (3–4cm taller) foolscap file, the judgment offers useful guidance on two topics: what documents should be translated at public expense and the form of court bundles.
As the President is suggesting that sanctions are possible for non-compliance with the practice direction on bundles, Andrew Venables summarises the guidance.
The case was heard by the President due the LAA’s refusal to pay for documents to be translated for the Father. The cost of translating the 591 pages that were initially proposed was estimated at around £23,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the LAA had refused to give prior authority.
The President held that documents would only be translated if this necessary to resolve the proceedings justly [at 31]. He concluded that only 51 of the original 591 pages needed to be translated because these were the only documents the Father needed understand in fine detail.
The documents that would be translated in their entirety were [at 34]
• The threshold document,
• The statement of one of the other respondent fathers,
• The final care plan.
The social work statements and assessments would be translated in part so the Father had the detail of the parts relating to him and the conclusions. Only the parts of the Mother’s statement that related to him would be translated. The rest could be summarised in around 30 pages, which was enough to give the Father an understanding of the case and the substance of the other documents [at 35].
Although the Father was not at the centre of the case as the focus was what had happened to the children in the care of the Mother and the new partner. It seems, however, that in future advocates will have to identify why it is necessary for each document (or part thereof) to be translated.
These should not be lodged at the court ahead of the hearing: the advocate responsible for the bundle is also responsible for bringing a witness bundle to any court hearing at which oral evidence may be called [at 18]. Court staff have been instructed not to accept any witness bundle over the counter and may destroy any bundle received by DX or courier [at 19], unless the judge has directed one be filed.
The President repeated remarks he has made previously about bundles being limited to 350 pages unless directions for a longer bundle have been given. On that theme, the following guidance was given.
1. The bundle should only contain documents that are relevant and need to be read or will be referred to [at 20];
2. That judges can limit the length of documents and may set a maximum length for expert reports. The President also criticised the practice of repeating material that is set out in other documents [at 22];
3. The practice of using ‘core bundles’ along with a number of other files containing background and secondary materials that are produced at trial will not be tolerated [at 13];
4. Bundles should not be printed double-sided [at 16].
Possibility of Sanctions
It has been suggested that the result of failure to comply with the bundles practice direction might lead to sanction.
This could include
1. Public criticism in judgments where parties and lawyers (in particular local authorities) are named;
2. Financial sanction, potentially including third-party costs orders against legal teams and/or the disallowing of some solicitor–client costs;
3. A direction that the bundle be removed and that the parties must either agree a bundle or put together their ‘half’ of a bundle of less than 350 pages, see Seagrove v Sullivan  EWHC 4110 (Fam)
4. Attendance at a ‘delinquents’ court’ akin to that used by Admin court in immigration matters per R (ex p Hamid) v SSHD  EWHC 3070 (Admin)
While some judges will have little appetite for enforcing the formal requirements of PD27A, Mumby P has made it clear that these rules exist to ease the work burden on judges and that failure to abide by the rules may lead to sanction. Although Re L is a public law case the rules apply to all family cases and, as Seagrove v Sullivan (above) demonstrates, the practical impact of this case is most likely to be felt in financial remedy cases. Compliance is expected and directions should be sought if it will not be possible. Any attempts save costs by not seeking directions may prove to be a false economy.