As a law student I’ve had the opportunity to read my fair share of judgments over the last two years. For the most part they tend to be relatively juicy as they have been picked out by my professors as seminal cases in Canadian jurisprudence and therefore at the very least are worth reading for the precedent that they set. Other cases are read for critical reasons in order to hone our analytic skills.
One thing that most of these cases have in common is that although they are generally written well from a legal point of view, they tend to be quite lengthy (thank heavens for headnotes) and generally dry. Although judges are hired not necessarily for their writing but for their decision making and reasoning skills, would it really hurt judges to spice up their (sometimes extremely) lengthy judgments with some wit or creativity?
I know I know, the law is meant to be predictable, and any word that a judge writes could possibly be argued as precedent for future cases and therefore judges must be careful and precise in their language. I’d just like to see a bit more of a happy medium. I’d like to propose that judges, at the very least, in reciting the facts of a case keep the reader’s sanity in mind and write them with a little panache. In reciting the law, sure, go ahead with ensuring that the correct precedent is set with clear, precise, language, but perhaps if judges had a bit more fun writing their judgments, they could at least gain a bit more favour with their clerks and the public.
This post is inspired by Justice O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice whose hilarious decision (R v Duncan, 2013 ONCJ 160.)  and even more humorous footnotes put a serious smile on my face - a first for reading a case about a routine traffic stop.
The judgment begins:
““You should get out of town”, the man said.
And so began the journey that resulted in my path intersecting with Matthew Duncan’s path. And thence to these reasons, with a slight detour through territory that might have confused Lewis Carroll.”
One notable quote from the judgment:
It has been said that, given enough time, ten thousand monkeys with typewriters  would probably eventually replicate the collected works of William Shakespeare. Sadly, when human beings are let loose with computers and internet access, their work product does not necessarily compare favourably to the aforementioned monkeys with typewriters.
Although the law being decided in the case is routine and boring, it nonetheless makes for a riveting read because of Justice O’Donnell’s flair, wit, and incredibly satisfying writing style.
Here’s hoping this becomes a trend and judges make my chosen career path slightly more interesting.
 The learned Justice added this footnote to the word “typewriters”:
For readers under the age of thirty or so, the “typewriter” was a mechanical device used for creating documents that pre-dated the computer and lacked some of the computer’s more annoying characteristics, in particular the computer’s facilitation of “cutting and pasting”, which is undoubtedly one of the four horsemen of the modern apocalypse and which has cost many trees their lives and many lawyers and judges their eyesight.