Law Reports Not Meant To Be “Funny”

Posted on 7th Feb 2012 in Law Reporting


In re A Law Reporter

Royal Courts of Justice Rm 716 Before: Mr Editor Sutherland
Date: sometime in 1982

It is not the task of a law report to make fun of the law, or of those (such as judges) put in office to administer it.

The Editor of the Times Law Report, Mr Iain Sutherland, so stated in 1982 when admonishing a young barrister who had recently joined the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales and who, in order to enliven a dull afternoon, and confident that the Editor would be alert enough to detect and remove them, had inserted a number of facetious remarks into the otherwise dry narrative of his law report.

HIS EDITORSHIP said that the law reporter in question had spent much of the morning taking down a lengthy extempore judgment in the Queen’s Bench Divisional Court. He had then sought to enliven the afternoon task of writing it up for the Times Law Report by inserting a number of remarks along the following lines.

His Lordship rambled on in this fashion for several more hours while the parties and their legal representatives yawned appreciatively.”

To take another example:

His Lordship at this point accidentally dropped his copy of the Supreme Court Practice (otherwise known as ‘the White Book’) causing the learned associate to sit up suddenly, knocking over the water jug and soaking the usher’s book of word game puzzles.”

It was lucky, in the Editor’s opinion, that these egregious interpolations, typed up as normal and taken away with other copy by the messenger boy to Gray’s Inn Road for setting by the compositors, had later been detected and removed at proof stage by someone who, it went without saying, knew his job. But what if, on the way to Gray’s Inn Road, he had been knocked down by a bus and, in his absence, the uncorrected proofs had been set on the page and printed just as they were? Whereas the law reporter’s first concern in those circumstances might have been for the health of his accidentally injured editor, it was evident that the conscientious editor’s first concern would have been for the judicial victim of the supposedly humorous insertions and the regard of the Bench as a whole for the Times Law Report. As the late AP Herbert noted in his law report of Rex v Haddock (1935), “People must not do things for fun. We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any Act of Parliament.” (AP Herbert, Uncommon Law.)

Lest the above report give the impression that the Editor was a dour Scot with no sense of humour, let it be recorded that nothing could be further from the case, and that as colleague, drinking partner, fellow member of the High Court Journalists’ Association and lifelong friend, Mr Sutherland has been unashamedly amusing good company. But law reports should be, and are, an entirely serious matter. As to why this report is not signed, see the report of Practice Direction (Naming and Shaming: Writers and Editors) (below).



Practice Direction (Naming and Shaming: Writers and Editors)

Whereas it had always been the practice of the Times Law Report to be absolutely fearless in “naming names” when it came to errant judges, negligent barristers and frankly appalling solicitors, that did not mean the practice need be extended to those writing or editing those same reports.

The Editor of the Times Law Report, sitting at his desk in the Royal Courts of Justice in November 1982, so stated when reminding a young reporter that he was wasting his time in asking for a by-line to publicise (sorry, authenticate and lend weight to) his efforts in capturing the latest examples of judge-made law in the Queen’s Bench Division.

HIS NIBS said it was well known that the Times Law Report was edited by a barrister of Gray’s Inn, where naming and shaming was an after dinner sport of some antiquity, and that he was qualified as necessary, having served a pupillage with Mr David (now Mr Justice) Eady in Chambers at One Brick Court in the Temple, and that there was no need to spell it out for the punters. Furthermore, and notwithstanding the general practice of naming and shaming, that did not extend to law reporters, who should remain nameless (and therefore, by implication, shameless).

Good bye (line)



The above tribute was included in a mock-up of the front page of The Times presented to Mr Iain Sutherland at a party held at the Supreme Court on Thursday, 2 February 2012, to mark his retirement after 30 years from the post of Editor of the Times Law Report.

Lest anyone be in any doubt about the matter, the alleged reports reproduced above are NOT capable of being cited in court as authority for anything. Nor are they in any sense a fair and accurate report of any actual court proceedings that may or may not have taken place at or about the stated date, or at all.