Guide to Court 2: Skeleton Argument & Character References
Our going to court guide is in 3 parts. You can download the entire guide (see below) or you can read it here it on the site. Part two of the guide explains how to construct a good skeleton argument, the formatting and submission requirements and using character references. Here is part 1 of the guide to court if you haven't already read it.
Skeleton argumentsSkeleton arguments are used in contested hearings, interim applications and final hearings. They will also be required in appeals. They will usually be prepared by your solicitor or counsel, but you may have to draft one if you represent yourself.
A skeleton argument is a document which sets out an outline of your case for the court. It will briefly outline what the case is about and give a summary of your case. It does not set out arguments in full detail as you will expand upon this summary of your points during the hearing.
It may help to think of your case like a shopping list:
- Main point of case = fruit
- Summary of arguments = apples
You would not put in your list “pink lady apples of medium firmness, approximately 4 large sized”. This detail would be added in orally to anyone helping pick the item.
Keep your skeleton argument brief. This is a summary which you will flesh out orally in court. The skeleton should only be a few pages long (not a short novel).
What to put in your skeleton argument...
- What the application is for
- A brief introduction to the parties
- A brief introduction to the case topic
- Reference to the governing law and procedure
- A list of documents referred to
- A chronology (if it would assist the court)
In your introduction state exactly what the case is about (e.g. Residence Order under S.8 Children Act 1989)
Explain who the parties are (giving their full names) and explain briefly what the two sides of the argument are (e.g. The mother wants the children to live with her full-time. The father wants joint custody.)
In referencing the law, explain any relevant statutory test. Most orders have a legal test which must be satisfied and so this test should be stated for the court.
For example, the test for a prohibitory interim injunction is:
- a) Is there a serious issue to be tried?
- b) Are damages adequate to compensate the Claimant?
- c) Where does the balance of convenience lie?
You may also wish to rely on a recent court case with similar facts. If so this case should be stated with its full citation. (e.g. Silver Fox Farm v. Emmet  1 All ER 825) You should use the most recent case you can find as the law and inclination of the courts changes over time. Make sure any case you use has not been successfully appealed in a higher court.
In your reading list include any statutes or cases used in chronological order. You should also list any case documents you will rely on as evidence for your points.
A chronology should be used where there are lots of dates for the court to consider. If dates of matters are not especially relevant to your case or there are only a couple of relevant dates to remember, you may choose to miss out this part of your introduction as it will not materially help the court.
Remember that your introduction is there to help the judge understand the point of your case and what you want. The better the judge understands your case, the more likely they are to follow your points.
2) State issues in the caseExplain the main issues in the case. These are the points that the judge will need to decide in order to make a decision on your application.
3) Set out your pointsIt is often helpful to set out your points in paragraphs under each limb of the test. This helps focus your points and show the judge how your points help fulfil a particular limb of the test.
For each point you make, put in brackets afterwards the document containing the evidence supporting it and where any relevant part may be found in that document. You may use abbreviations to identify the arguments if you gave that abbreviation in your reading list.(e.g. [DP para2] may refer the judge to paragraph two of a statement made by Joe Bloggs.)
4) ConclusionFinally state what it is you want the court to do.(e.g. For the above reasons the court should award joint custody of the children.)
FormattingThere are some rules when it comes to formatting your skeleton argument:
- The skeleton must be typed
- The font must be Times New Roman, size 12
- The margins must be set to 2.5cm so that it can be bound in a bundle without any text being covered
- The line spacing must be at 1.5
- All paragraphs should be numbered for ease of reference
Using character referencesCourts consider character references in criminal cases to determine the nature of the person before them and ultimately help them pass a sentence on them. In civil cases, the courts may also consider character references in order to decide whether an action was out of character for an individual or assess their commitment to their children etc.
Your character reference should support points you are making and so directly address those points, e.g. commitment to children by regularly taking them to, and picking them up from several extra-curricular activities.
Useful tips for what referees should include in your reference
- Address to the judge directly (if known) or to the relevant court
- State how you know the person you are writing the reference for and how long you have known them
- Any positive attributes you can attest to
- Any activities of the person you wish to draw to the court’s attention
- The likely effect on the person of the order being or not being granted
- Only state the truth (it is an offence to mislead the court and will likely damage the person’s case)
- Sign and date your reference
- If possible put the reference on letter-headed paper
There is no restriction on the number of character references you can obtain or should use. It is however generally better to get as many references as possible so that you can pick out the best ones to use to support your points.
Don’t try to overly rely on character references though; your character is only one consideration of the court. Try to balance your character references with reliance on case law too.
Read part 3 of our going to court guides.
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