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The art of judgment reading

The consumption of food in law tends to take one of two forms—the resplendent or the utilitarian. There are the great Grand Day dinners at an Inn of Court, when no expense is spared every course, drink, place setting, and toast is meticulously planned to optimise the sublime sybaritic quality of the experience. These are resplendent. Then, there are the countless quick runs to a Pret, Other coffee and sandwich purveyors are available. the pre-packaged snacks in chambers, the barely functioning court vending machines, the communal pizza—the food there simply to provide the calories needed to sustain continued legal work and limited sharply by availability and proximity. This is utilitarian, and, naturally, the vast majority of meals in law are utilitarian. That is not a bad thing—utilitarian food can and often is very pleasurable. The difference between the two categories is of duration and persistence. A resplendent meal is very carefully chosen because the attendees are not merely eating and drinking for a few hours, but rather forming memories (because of the importance and ceremony of the occasion) which will last a very long time. A utilitarian meal, on the other hand, is usually spent as soon as it is done (in large part because the content and framing resembles that of many other utilitarian meals past and yet to come).

Judgment reading is not altogether distinct from legal eating. Almost all judgment reading is utilitarian. The most utilitarian judgment reading occurs in legal research, when checking various passages in judgments involves the tiniest little nibble on many unsuitable judgments and then only as many bites are as needed on those which are useful to the inquiry. Then, there is the reading of any recent judgments with impact in one’s field of profession or interest, as well as (where time allows) taking the time to peruse the general law reports for that week or month and keep apprised of developments in the law. Once more, all of these utilitarian engagements can be quite pleasurable. The sort of person who goes into law is (or at least should be) the sort of person who enjoys reading a good judgment, and the methods described will yield many very good judgments for the reader. In no case, however, is there any special choice about the setting, pairing, or thought.

On rare occasions, however, there are judgments which are so important, so epochal, that the experience of reading it ought to be deliberately chosen. Much as everyone of a certain generation can remember where they were when they saw Apollo 11 land on the Moon, every lawyer will remember where and how they first read a precedent which is instantly and self-evidently going to be a lodestone of citation, discussion, and analysis for years to come. Miller II is an obvious recent example of such a case in the United Kingdom. A barrister referring to such a landmark, as part of her advocacy, is subconsciously invoking what the acting teacher Stanislavski called ‘sensory memory’ to construct her argument, as the reality of the setting of that momentous first reading serves as an aide-memoire to produce mastery of the masterful authority.

Thus, when a case comes along which is quite sure to produce a memory which will last a legal lifetime, there is call for some careful preparation. After all, why would anyone want a memory of such long duration to be anything other than resplendent?

As a demonstration of how judgment reading can be a fine art, let us consider an epochal judgment released this week: Guest v Guest. [2022] UKSC 27 In the law of proprietary estoppel, of real property, and indeed in the vibrant life of the equity whose hypostatic union with the common law creates the body of English judicature, this is a landmark (no pun intended) case. It shall be taught to students. It shall be debated in journals and books, as the majority and minority’s debate is continued by valiant academic knights sworn to one or the other cause. Its merest complexities and dicta shall take on fame and authority far exceeding of the entirety of most judgments. It shall come to be the Prince Emir of Proprietary Estoppel, the Ur-Case of Unconscionability, the Leading Light of Land Law! In other words, it deserves some special treatment.

Before I venture into my suggestions, I wish to emphasise that they are merely that: suggestions. Much like there are infinite ways to make a resplendent meal, many of which are dependent on the dietary preferences and gastrocultural backgrounds of the diners, there are infinite ways to prepare a resplendent judgment reading. What follows, therefore, is designed not to represent the ‘ideal’ and most emphatically not designed to suggest that my preferences are ‘correct’ and others are ‘incorrect’. Rather, it is a reminder of the importance of intentionality—as with typography, the content of the artistic choice matters less than that the choice was made with care and deliberation.

Setting & Format

As the judgment in question is (see infra) best paired with gustatory and Ĺ“nological pleasures, it necessarily follows that it must be read in a place where such delights may be indulged. This rules out many libraries, where for good reason food & drink are generally frowned upon. Yet,most restaurants are also excluded because they provide noise and interruption which prevents smooth reading. Therefore, the judgment is best enjoyed either, where suitable, in a home environment or in a ‘third space’ of quiet privacy, like an SCR.

While the optimal format for a resplendent judgment is a law report, the need to read the handed-down version in a timely fashion means that the best option is to use an extension like this publication’s ‘Better BAILII’, which provides top-level typography to existing BAILII judgments. This, in turn, is less optimal than hand-tweaking the typography of the entire judgment, but typesetting the judgment from scratch would necessitate reading the judgment in the most utilitiarian fashion: as a document to be formatted rather than a pronouncement of law. Obviously, the proper and sensible solution would be for the Supreme Court to take its typographic task seriously and hire a Chief Typographer to format judgments perfectly ab initio, but this easy step seems to be one in which the Justices and the corporate body of the Court have no interest. Alas…

A printed judgment is an aid to study—carefully marked up, each page folded, and memory, as is its wont, attaching and associating points of the judgmetn with their particular appearance on the page. The printed judgment allows the creation of markers of significance and association in a way that is more difficult with digital judments. The paper should, ideally be off-white, Tschichold, in The Form of the Book, rightly condemns bright white printer paper as offensive to the reader’s eye. There is a reason text-focused books are not printed in such a manner, woven, Although laid paper has its advantages, for printing with laser or inkjet, as almost everyone reading this web-log would do, is better with woven., and of a high enough GSM to have a sense of weight and texture. As hard-binding is probably over the top, Even for me! I recommend hole-punch with treasury tags (tipped with metal, not plastic), or perhaps tied together with spare pink ribbon.

For many, printing the entire judgment may not be economical. Consequently, I recommend using a Kindle or other e-ink reader, or an e-ink tablet, Your correspondent owns an Onyx BOOX tablet and is rather fond of it, using the HTML format off BAILII converted to an ebook. This allows the Kindle Other e-readers are available to re-format the judgment to fit the screen and re-do the typography to fit the default Kindle formatting. Thanks to paragraph-numbering, this does not interfere with citation. This can produce just as effective a resplendent reading. Your correspondent had a very pleasant experience, at a time when printing was not practical for him, having a resplendent reading of Privacy International on a Kindle. [2020] AC 491, SC (E) The precise sense memory of reading the Lord Carnwath of Notting Hill’s epochal dictum in that case is so powerful that I can still recall the precise paragraph number of the passage and where I was when it occurred. ibid, para 144


This is the most subjective bit of creating a resplendent judgment experience. For each consommateur of a good judgment, the proper permutation of pairings will differ in precise array. As a starting point for each reader’s own exploration, here follows this web-log’s proprietor’s own personal proposals for pairings. They are themed around the food, drink, and listening. Like any multi-course meal, moderation and pacing is an essential ingredient of the long journey through a judgment.

Let us begin at the beginning, with Lord Briggs JSC’s leading judgment. For listening, we shall use the work of another Briggs, the organist and composer David Briggs, and his album, The Glory of Gloucester. Available for download at this link. While Tump Farm, at issue in Guest, is not itself in Gloucestershire, Though geographically it is reasonably close the rural theme of the organ music, combined with its namesake, should heighten the sense-memory of the judgment. Appropriately, Mr Briggs’s album begins with a composition by Bach, ‘Wir danken Dir, Gott, wir danken Dir!’, the title of which reflects the profound gratitude we humble jurists feel at being able to experience such a glorious judgment.

As regards beverages, there can be no doubt that the only apt- alcoholic pairing for this opening salvo of judicial reasoning is one of the offerings of Penfolds in the State of South Australia, viz their ‘Father Grand’ ten year-old port. Available at this link. Other winesellers are available; this web-log derives no pecuniary advantage whatsoever from the user’s choice of merchant. The name, naturally, helps with memory—thinking about fathers and sons, as we consider this Turgenevian case, is an aide memoire, and even in a resplendent judgment reading, utility and memory matter. The same may be said for the fact that Penfolds is very much a family estate typifying the sort of agriculture by descent involved in Guest. Yet, the reasons for the choice go beyond mere nomenclature. The sweet notes—berries, marmalade, and caramel—in the port coexist beside a fundamentally nutty aftertaste. The contrast between family love and the cruel denial of the earned sweetness of filial reward could not be more clearly expressed. This is the ideal drink for this pairing.

As regards food (and with regard to the need for moderation in its consumption), the fabric of the judgment gives us a clear hint. A Leitmotif of Lord Briggs JSC in this judgment is seeds and sowing. See, eg, at para 60 where an extended seed metaphor is used to describe the interaction of Australian and New Zealand case law. Thus, what could better fit for thoughtful noshing as his Lordship’s judgment is read than a traditional British caraway seed cake? One on-line recipe for such a cake is available at this link. The seedy nature and traditional connotations of the taste of the food pair well with the rural and bucolic considerations at issue in this case.

Let us now turn, to the masterful partial concurrence of my Lord, Lord Leggatt JSC. After a suitable palate cleanser, a new set of pairings must be used to heighten the sensory contrast between the majority judgment and the alternate reasons of his Lordship. Let us start once again with the audiological dimension. Lord Leggatt JSC’s judgment examines promise and reliance in the context of a life given over in hope of a future that never came, that was lost. What better pairing, then, than Bruce Springsteen’s ‘lost’ album ‘The Promise’ (2011), Track listing and lyrics at this link; available wherever fine albums are sold. which examines so poignantly how we try to hold fast to those promises of life and how often they yet slip us by, leaving only a bitter yet nostalgic aftertaste. This choice of music eases us into the choice of drink naturally, for there is a wine designed specifically to pair with Mr Springsteen’s album, ‘Terre Promise’ from the winery ‘Domaine Treloar’. Available at this link; other wine merchants are available. This leaves only the question of morsels. Here, we want something simple and plain, with the subtlest work of an aide memoire. Given the frequest citation Lord Leggatt JSC makes to Jennings v Rice, [2003] 1 P & CR 100; [2002] EWCA Civ 159 surely some nice rice cakes would not go amiss as a light snack to heighten sense memory?