Where Do I Begin? (Thoughts From A New Judge On Judgment Writing)

AuthorNuala Butler
PositionBCL, LL.M, BL, Judge of the High Court
[2021] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 5(2)
Abstract: This article looks at the process of judgment writing from the perspective of a recently appointed
Judge. It considers the objective criteria by reference to which judgments are selected for formal reporting in the
law reports and the reasons why some judgments, which ostensibly meet those criteria, are not reported. It
then examines the practical steps involved in the preparation of a written judgment and how those might be
approached with a view to ensuring that the resulting judgment clearly explains the Judge’s reasoning process
not just to the parties but a broader legal audience.
Author: Ms Justice Nuala Butler, BCL, LL.M, BL, Judge of the High Court
This article began life as a paper which I delivered at the Superior Courts Judges Conference
held in May 2021. Unlike the usual situation in specialist conferences, I was not asked to
speak on the topic of judgment writing because I was the most qualified person to do so but
rather because I was the least. As the newest (bar one) member of the Superior Courts
judiciary at the time I was aware that I had less experience in writing judgments than virtually
all of my colleagues. However, the very fact that I had come lately to the task meant that I
was still consciously thinking about the process how to approach it, how to do it and,
hopefully perhaps eventually how to do it better.
I also come to the task with a particular interest in judgments. For three years prior to my
appointment to the High Court, I was the Chairperson of the Incorporated Council for Law
Reporting in Ireland, the body that is responsible for the production of the Irish Reports.
All in all, I was a member of the Council on both its Outer and Inner Bar panels for about
twenty years and served on its Editorial Committee for about fifteen years. Before that, as a
very junior barrister I had worked as a law reporter for the Council. As a result, I am very
conscious of the criteria that are applied in choosing which judgments should be reported
and why judgments are deemed not to meet those criteria. Some of those criteria are beyond
the control of the individual Judge, such as the importance or novelty of the point being
decided. Others, such as the quality and length of the judgment, are very much in the hands
of the judicial author. Over the past decade or so the increase in the number of judges , and
consequent increase in the number of judgments, has meant that due to pressure of space,
most judgments simply cannot be reported. In any event, now that all judgments are
immediately available on the Courts Service website, the significance of a judgment being
formally reported may have diminished. Nonetheless, years spent trying to identify good
judgments have left my inner critic sharply attuned to what I am now trying to achieve, and
recent experience has taught me the difficulties in achieving it.
This article aims to do two things. The first is to explain, from a law reporting perspective,
what makes a judgment reportable. I do not presume that every judge approaches every
judgment in the hope or expectation that it will find its way to immortality in the Irish
Reports. However, in a precedent-based legal system where the law reports are seen by both
practitioners and academics as one of the main sources of law, it is useful for a Judge to
understand the objective criteria that are applied to determine which judgments will be
included. The second, from a more personal perspective, is to consider how to approach
or at any rate how I have approached - the task of judgment writing. I hope that, like riding
a bicycle, once I have mastered the skill it will become second nature to me, and I will write

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