Annemarie van Gaal: Expensive lawyers, busy judges

5 March Print

Annemarie van Gaal: Expensive lawyers, busy judges

Judges have a heavy workload but most of it comes from lawyers who don’t want to keep it short, writes Annemarie van Gaal

With all the hullabaloo surrounding events at SNS Reaal, the warning issued by high court president Geert Corsten has disappeared into the background. Corsten is rightly worried about the workload of judges.

Judges have no time to do the job properly. Their assistants are writing the verdicts and in cases with more than one judge presiding, the criminal files are divided between them and none of the judges has read all the documents.

Quality

Corsten is right: the heavy workload of judges could endanger the quality of our justice system. MPs have been quick to tell the media they would support an investigation and if the results proved Corsten right, more resources should of course be allocated to the judiciary.

I can tell you now they will: the judges’ workload is unacceptably heavy and their work suffers. Political parties will vie with each other as to who will promise the biggest purse. After all, we should be able to trust in the quality and independence of our justice system. And who better to protect it than the politicians.

Time is money

I don’t want to spoil the party but I think there are a few things that should be said. In my opinion, the one has nothing to do with the other. Time is money: the courts are paid for every case and for every case a certain amount of time is set aside. It is very expensive to spend a lot of that time reading hundreds of pages of legal documents.

More money means more time to work on a case but ‘time is money’ also works for the people who bring the cases to court: the lawyers. Only to them it’s the other way around: money is synonymous with time and the more documents they produce the more they are getting paid. It’s as simple as that.

Moreover, which lawyer worth his salt would let his opposite number top him when it comes to a good, fat trial brief? And this is why the judge has to struggle through hundreds and hundreds of pages of text about trivialities, say, about the neighbour’s chicken. In business the rule is that if you can’t explain your idea in two or three paragraphs it is probably not a very good idea. The same should hold true for court cases. If a lawyer can’t argue a simple case in two or three succinct paragraphs, he’s doing something wrong.

Let’s go back to the judge and his workload. In order to lighten it we must get to the root of the problem. Many court cases are over relatively simple things, like a dispute with a supplier or a fight between neighbours. What the court should really do is return to sender any trial brief longer than two pages.

Less waffle

The state of law is important and the judges are doing a great job. But let’s prevent all that time being poured into reading the ever-growing, meaningless waffle of lawyers. This has an added advantage. Apart from freeing up the judge, it would also result in lower legal bills for lawyers’ clients. Win-win, I’d say.

Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality

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