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The art of writing judgments

When the Associate Chief Justice of the Quebec Superior Court André Wery was nominated to the bench in 1997, he considered he knew how to write well. Admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1975, he practiced for nearly 23 years in general and commercial litigation at the firm Desjardins Ducharme, and felt that he had honed his skills by writing hundreds of opinions and just as many briefs. “I must admit that I had quite a bit of confidence in my talent to write law,” admitted Justice Wery before a packed audience.

But shortly after being nominated, the chief justice handed Judge Wery a bunch of documents including a small handbook entitled “Ēcrire la decision” (Writing judgments). Penned by Louise Mailhot, a lawyer who served as a Quebec Superior Court judge and then for a nine-year spell from 1987 to 2006 served on the Quebec Court of Appeal, the handbook has become “a must-have” for judges writing judgments, says Wery.

While leafing through the handbook, “I began to hold doubts about the way I wrote,” said Wery “The more I read this small book, the more I doubted myself. Up to them I took great care in using abstruse expressions, the most abstruse possible. Probably because in a subliminal way I was trying to justify the fabulous fees that I was charging my clients, saying to myself that if the client doesn’t understand it then the client would say to himself it must be worth the price I’m paying.”

Judge Wery then realized that he basically had to “start from zero,” and learn how to write again, an exercise he begun by asking himself who was he writing for. “Who we write for determines how we do it, what words we choose and the style we choose,” observed Justice Wery.

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