Justice M.M. Corbett – Writing a Judgment – Extract

Justice M.M. Corbett, Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Africa, in a lecture at an orientation course for new judges, recommended the following structure in writing a judgment which facilitates orderliness and produces a logical, flowing judgment:

(a) An introductory section;

(b) Setting out of the facts:

(c) The law and the issues;

(d) Applying the law to the facts;

(e) Determining the relief (including order for costs); and

(f) Finally, the order of the Court.

For lucidity should be the prime aim of any judgment-writer. At the same time, certain aspects of style have a bearing on lucidity. In this connection, my advice (for what it is worth) is to keep your language and your sentence construction simple. Write in short sentences and do not try to pack too many ideas into a single sentence. Particularly in setting out facts, try to maintain a simple, straightforward flow to your narrative. Try to avoid the repetition of words or phrases and observe the normal rules of grammar. A well-known exponent of simple language and the simple sentence was Lord Denning.

Justice M.M. Corbett
Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Africa [Writing a Judgment – Address at the First Orientation Course for New Judges, (1998) 115 SOUTH AFRICAN LAW JOURNAL 116]