An appeal judgment

Introduction

Since this is a judgment under two hundred paragraphs long, I will not begin with a faint stab at poetic licence by describing the physical setting of the events.  It’s a judgment, not some milquetoast TripAdvisor review.  Rather, it is enough to record that on X date, the District Court made the decision under appeal.  If I’m going to allow the appeal, I’ll either name the judge once in passing or, if I thought they really borked this one, I’ll omit their name entirely.  If I’m going to dismiss the appeal, I’ll give the District Court judge’s first and last name, IRD number, star sign and find a way to work in the fact they are an “experienced District Court judge” somewhere around paragraph 25.

Next I’ll state what the appellant’s grounds of appeal are.  These will largely be my gloss on what were incoherent grounds in submissions.  The sole exception is the one hopeless ground that appellant’s counsel stuck to despite my best efforts during the hearing to dislodge them from that rocky redoubt.  I will faithfully record that but with liberal use of inverted commas.

Then, briefly to the respondent’s position.  As usual, all the respondent has done is say “no it isn’t” every time the appellant has said “yes it is”, which is the height of advocacy for a seven year old.

As a final introductory remark I’ll regret the time it has taken to deliver this decision.  This judgment is being released one day short of three months after the hearing, because the cut-off for timely delivery stats is three months, and the Chief High Court Judge will get on my case if it ticks over to the three-to-six month band.

The facts

If we’re lucky the appeal is on a point of law so I can rip these from the decision below and just whack them in a blockquote.

If it’s an appeal against factual findings I have to carefully rewrite the facts from the decision below in my own words so it doesn’t look like I’ve ripped them from the decision below and just whacked them in a blockquote.  When it gets to the challenged facts I have to go back to the briefs/statements and transcripts of evidence, hardly any of which are pinpointed in the parties’ submissions but all of which have exploded comically across my desk.

Lastly, one of the parties spent a good 25 minutes at the hearing talking about one factual dispute which is now basically pointless because (a) it’s not material to my reasoning; and (b) I can’t read my own handwriting from the notes I took at the hearing.  Nevertheless I have to give that an airing in three or so vague paragraphs because if I don’t one of the parties will accuse me of overlooking it.

Test on appeal

Definitely a general appeal.  I think.  It’s usually a general appeal.  Anyway, time to find one of my old judgments and copy and paste the usual bit about Austin, Nichols or Kacem v Bashir or Tutakangahau v R.  

The grounds of appeal

One side’s submissions blow past any reasonable page count and the other side’s only meet it because they’ve not complied with rules about line and paragraph spacing.  Nevertheless, the job of a judge is to rise above.

Start with the only decent point in the entire thing.  Usually it is sub-point (d) of the third ground of appeal and occupies about two paragraphs of the written submissions.  But it’s the only point in the case that will let me get to the right result so the judgment will take a few liberties with how it’s characterised.  From that spark, to a blaze with the help of a few authorities my clerk found and at last we’re getting somewhere.

The respondent’s submissions cite unimaginative Court of Appeal decisions mostly from the 1980s and all before 2010.  It is just a wall of appellate authority saying you can’t do what the appellant wants to do, but in very general terms.  The submissions make no attempt to grapple with the individual justice of the case and proceed on a mistaken assumption that this is my first rodeo and some old Court of Appeal decisions can stop me.

Decision time.  This goes one of two ways.  To allow an appeal, I work forwards: find a very broadly expressed principle in the governing statute that can be used to support my reasoning.  Then, I’ll build upon this edifice ensuring the reasoning comes out in a “this is what Parliament wants” kind of way, and there are sufficient sockets to plug in the facts.  To dismiss an appeal, I work backwards: it’s a matter of saying the end result was correct, and after that any error by the court below didn’t or couldn’t affect the outcome.  At paragraph 25 I mention the fact there was an experienced District Court judge.  In extreme cases, I refer to the busy District Court list: the home of errors but not injustices.

The other grounds I can blitz through because they were only put out there on an “in for a penny” basis by counsel who mistakenly believed a person can have more than one good idea per case.  The grounds that don’t have a complete answer in the governing statute find one in common sense.

Result and disposition

I conclude by restating my conclusion as to the error or lack thereof.  If there is an error I need to state what to do, which normally involves overlooking the impact of some internecine interlocutory wrangling that neither party has told me about and which will force me to recall the judgment in a week or two to restate the relief.

I’ll give a tentative indication of any costs consequences that both parties will ignore, and so I’ll place a miserly page limit on costs submissions knowing that that will be ignored too.

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