Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Judge's typos complaint dismissed

The High Court heard that judges' rulings often contain typographical mistakes

A High Court judge has written off a lawyer's complaint about the number of spelling and typographical mistakes in a written ruling by a less senior judge.

Mr Justice Baker said it was true that there were a "number of typographical errors" in the ruling by circuit judge Nicholas Marston - who sits in the Court of Protection.

But Mr Justice Baker said such mistakes could be found in many rulings and no-one reading Judge Marston's judgment could doubt that he had "approached his task with due care and thoughtfulness".

He said it had to be remembered that circuit judges had no "secretarial support".

Mr Justice Baker has made his comments after considering an appeal against a decision made by Judge Marston following a trial in the Court of Protection - which handles cases relating to sick and vulnerable people.

He did not spell out the mistakes in Judge Marston's ruling.

The case centred on a woman in her 40s. Her lawyers had appealed after complaining that Judge Marston had "erred in law" when concluding that she lacked the mental capacity to make decisions concerning her care and residence.

Mr Justice Baker - who sits in London and presides over cases in the Family Division of the High Court and the Court of Protection - dismissed the appeal.

He said Judge Marston had carried out a "proper evaluation" and it would be "impossible" for any appellate court to conclude that the judgment was wrong.

Mr Justice Baker said the woman could not be identified.

"The grounds of appeal settled by counsel who had appeared before Judge Marston began by asserting that the judgment contained a large number of obvious spelling and typographical errors," said Mr Justice Baker, in a written ruling following an appeal hearing.

"Trial counsel submitted that 'the (presumably unintentional) impression given by the judgment overall is one of lack of consideration bordering on disregard for the appellant as the subject of proceedings. The errors suggest that the judge did not approach his judgment with the care and thoughtfulness which the case warranted'."

Mr Justice Baker said that argument was "unfair and insulting to Judge Marston" and had "wisely" not been pursued.

"No one reading the judgment could doubt that he approached his task with due care and thoughtfulness," said Mr Justice Baker.

"It is true that there are a number of typographical errors. That is true of many judgments - certainly it is true of mine.

He added: "It must be remembered that a circuit judge has no personal assistant nor any secretarial support. The demands on circuit judges are increasing."

Mr Justice Baker said recent guidance from Sir James Munby, who heads the Court of Protection and the Family Division of the High Court, required judges to publish more rulings.

He said that guidance had added to judges' "burdens".

Mr Justice Baker said as a rule High Court judges produced "draft" rulings which were checked by barristers involved in cases before being finalised.

"Invariably, errors are picked up," added Mr Justice Baker. "Circuit judges do not always adopt this practice and it might be advisable for them to do so.

"Had Judge Marston adopted this practice in this case, the typographical errors would (presumably) have been picked up.

"In any event, the typographical errors here were not of a degree to call into question the reliability of Judge Marston's judgment."

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