The Malaysian Bar's International Malaysia Law Conference ("IMLC") 2018 is taking place from 14 to 17 Aug 2018 at The Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur.
by Stella Chai, Bar Council Secretariat
As Dato’ Varghese George, Judge, Court of Appeal (Retired) and one of the esteemed speakers of the session entitled “Written Submissions for Advocacy” commented, “written advocacy is now the norm in our courts and an integral part of the whole scheme of total advocacy”. Delegates were treated to a rich reservoir of useful and practical information from the panel which also included Robert Low of Messrs Ranjit, Ooi & Robert Low, who is the Chairperson of the Bar Council Advocacy Training Committee; Ira Biswas of Messrs Chooi & Company + Cheang & Ariff; and Gopal Sreenevasan of Messrs Sreenevasan Young. The session was moderated by Dato’ Dr Cyrus Das, past President of the Malaysian Bar (1997–1999).
“When asked the quality that he most admired in an advocate, Lord Diplock answered that it is brevity.” Gopal Sreenevasan opined that this applies equally to written advocacy. He went on to speak about the universal and basic principles for written advocacy, including tips on how best to achieve that brevity. Among them is courage — courage to honestly assess one’s case, sift through the myriad issues that arise and determine the main grounds on which a case turns, discarding the rest.
The title of Robert Low’s presentation for the day, “Less is more” became a running theme throughout the breakout session. All the speakers were in consensus that written submissions ought to be clear, concise and comprehensive. “Clarity is in the eye of the beholder”, stated Gopal, reminding lawyers to always keep in mind that their audience is the judge and the need to communicate their arguments as simply, clearly and quickly as possible.
Ira Biswas similarly stated that long sentences, long paragraphs and long words, while beautiful and enjoyable in prose, were not appropriate in legal submissions and should be avoided. Gopal referred to this as “economy of language”, and added that lawyers should be mindful of being concise and communicate their ideas simply.
Dato’ Varghese agreed that short sentences must still carry a punch — something that would make a judge sit up and read it. Being in the best position to offer this advice having had much first–hand experience as a recipient of written submissions, he encouraged advocates to use words that would capture the attention of judges. Dato’ Varghese offered crucial perspectives from the Bench throughout his presentation on the differences between written submissions in the High Court versus at the appellate courts.
Ira also shared the common problems and mistakes in written advocacy and their remedies, with a list of 26 practical tips. These ranged from making sure that all live issues of a case were addressed in the written submissions, to setting out the strongest points and arguments first, and ensuring the arguments made in an appeal related to the grounds of appeal. Building on the idea of brevity, Robert offered advice on two ways that advocates could make their written work more effective and persuasive. The first is a concise and wellexecuted opening paragraph, because as Aristotle said, “Well begun is half done.” Robert challenged lawyers to strive for the gold standard of using no more than 55 words to capture the essence of their claim. Gopal similarly advised that the first two to three paragraphs in a written submission should serve as a roadmap to the judge of where their argument is going to go.
Robert also extolled the benefits of using visual aids such as linear timelines or mind maps to condense lengthy and complex narratives, as they could be a very powerful tool to provide the judge with a bird’s eye view of the issues. As the popular idiom goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
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