Prolix redefined

To be a judge in New Zealand is to wield substantial power. Here we have evidence that judicial power can reverse the meaning of a word.

The judgement in our case against NIWA said at paragraph 9:

Both the original statement of claim and the first amended statement of claim were prolix.

The word “prolix” comes from the Latin “prolixus”, which means “extended” (literally “poured out”) or “courteous, favourable”. It has come to mean “tediously lengthy, bombastic, long-winded, verbose, wordy.”

It’s not used as a compliment. When a judge describes your submission as prolix he’s saying “your explanatory skills are poor, you waffle and you have wasted much of my time.”

When I first read the comment by Mr Justice Venning I gulped, thinking our counsel had made an unfortunate error that perhaps helped to turn the case against us.

But I’ve been sent a comparison of the documents in the two submissions and now I have to wonder why Venning J put the description prolix against the plaintiff’s case rather than the defence’s. Perhaps he just mixed them up accidentally. For otherwise he has given the meaning of prolix a push in a strange direction. Here’s the comparison (in pages):

Number of pages
 PlaintiffDefendant
Statement of Claim/Defence1520
Affidavits70134
Submissions (synopsis)44123
Totals129277
  • For the primary statements to the Court NIWA used 33% more paper than we needed.
  • For the affidavits, NIWA’s witnesses used nearly twice as many pages as ours.
  • And for the submissions, NIWA wound up the waffle big time – it was nearly three times more verbose than the Coalition.

The judge called our statement of claim prolix when the facts are that we were succinct – NIWA was the long-winded one.

Overall, more than twice as tedious (2.2 times).

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Richard C (NZ)val majkusAndrew WRob TaylorAndy Recent comment authors
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Rob Taylor
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Rob Taylor

Sorry to rain on your parade, RT, but “prolix” does not refer to the length of a submission.

The epithet is legalese for what we, in the reality-based community, call the noise-to-signal ratio, the inverse of which is widely known as “quality”.

What the good Justice was saying, in effect, is that the NZCSET statements of claim were a dreary load of old bollocks…

Richard C (NZ)
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Richard C (NZ)

Prolix from the legal dictionary:-

prolix adjective bombastic, boresome, boring, copious, diffuse, discursive, drearisome, full of verbiage, lengthy, long, long-spun, longus, maundering, monotonous, padded, pleonastic, prolonged, prosy, protracted, redundant, repetitive, spread out, spun out, tedious, tiresome, unconcise, uneconomical, verbose, wandering, wearisome, wordy

Perhaps an exaggeration by the Judge, especially given NIWA responded moreso.

If he’d been paying attention maybe he wouldn’t have overlooked the professional statistical peer-review.

Andrew W
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Andrew W

You don’t get it?
The implication is that while longer, the NIWA submissions contained far more real information, they were more succinct for the amount of information they included.

Andy
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Andy

And your evidence for this is what, exactly?

Andy
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Andy

Maybe we can do some textual analysis of the relevant documents, rather than relying on word count alone.

Richard C (NZ)
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Richard C (NZ)

“The implication is that while longer, the NIWA submissions contained far more real information, they were more succinct for the amount of information they included”

But would that have been the case if the Judge had exercised neither fear nor favour AND had taken into consideration the professional peer-review?

That is, the NZCSET case contained “real information” that was central to the case but the Judge overlooked it. Whether he did that intentionally or by inattention only he knows.

Andrew W
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Andrew W

You probably should stop digging on this one RT.

Richard C (NZ)
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Richard C (NZ)

“I have to wonder why Venning J put the description prolix against the plaintiff’s case rather than the defence’s”

As I’ve pointed out a few times, J Venning exhibited both fear (caution) and favour (to NIWA) in this case – contrary to his Judicial Oath.

Rob Taylor
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Rob Taylor

Oooo, naughty judge!

Sounds as if an appeal to the Supreme Court would be an open-and-shut case. Should I get some popcorn and put on my fluffy slippers?

Richard C (NZ)
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Richard C (NZ)

Just ONE of a string of potential appeal grounds Rob.

Andrew W
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Andrew W

Pleeze, pleeeze, pleeeeeze, appeal this decision RT.

Alexander K
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Alexander K

Offending the Establishment WILL be punished!

Andy
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Andy

Using long words is the prerogative of the establishment.

Take him down…

Rob Taylor
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Rob Taylor

testing….

val majkus
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val majkus

as a matter of curiousity I checked the Australian High Court published cases since 1911 for the word ‘prolix’ and only found it used once in respect to pleadings and 10 times for other things including interrogatories, argument, in a taxation case ‘the law is so prolix’, directions and orders, Counsel checking the NZ High Court published cases (available since 1963) there are 54 cases in which the word ‘prolix’ has been used the most interesting of which amongst those I read http://www.nzlii.org/cgi-bin/sinodisp/nz/cases/NZHC/2007/1023.html?query=prolix where the Court in examining the ‘strike out’ jurisdiction referred to (inter alia) ‘unnecessarily prolix pleading (referring to an 1884 Chancery case) which has been cited by the NZ High Court a few times in recent years in other NZ High Court cases which I skimmed use of the word ‘prolix’ when used in respect to pleadings – from my reading pleadings became prolix when they incorporated ‘unnecessary and extraneous’ material – indeed the word prolix is usually used with that phrase in close proximity or another phrase ‘unnecessarily prolix’ is used. In the Trust’s case the Court uses the word in respect to the initial and first amended Statement… Read more »

Andrew W
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Andrew W

Maybe the word ‘prolix’ is used to avoid words like: bombastic, boresome, boring, copious, diffuse, discursive, drearisome, full of verbiage, lengthy, long, long-spun, longus, maundering, monotonous, padded, pleonastic, prolonged, prosy, protracted, redundant, repetitive, spread out, spun out, tedious, tiresome, unconcise, uneconomical, verbose, wandering, wearisome, wordy, whose use might be seen as prolix.

Richard C (NZ)
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Richard C (NZ)

Maybe it was used as an excuse for inattention to detail.

val majkus
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val majkus

I found also one of my favourite judges (Mason) describe another of my favourite judges (Isaacs) as ‘writing prolix judgments’
When I was a student in the seventies I used to love Isaacs’ judgments
So maybe it’s in the eye of the beholder

And Andrew W is there such a word as ‘unconcise’ and ‘boresome’ and … oh never mind

Have a read of a judgment of Isaacs J to see how fulfilling in all ways a judgment can be

Andrew W
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Andrew W

And Andrew W is there such a word as ‘unconcise’ and ‘boresome’ and … oh never mind

Heh, I just pinched that list from Richard C’s comment from a legal dictionary up thread, I don’t have to read it do I?

Richard C (NZ)
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Richard C (NZ)

Val re your favourite judges. Is there a statistic anywhere that you know of readily, showing the appeals against higher ranking judges decisions versus appeals against lower ranking judges decisions?

Seems to me that a successful appeal is less likely against a higher ranked judges decision (better judgments) and more likely against a lower ranked judges decision (lessor quality decisions).

I could have a look myself but you might have a head start.

J Venning’s decisions appeal history would be required reading for NZCSET Counsel anyway.

val majkus
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val majkus

No Richard

Richard C (NZ)
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Richard C (NZ)

Interesting article here surrounding poor judicial decisions in NZ:-

https://newzealandjustice.com/content.php?278-Kiwis-shafted-by-fraudulent-justice-system-says-top-QC&postid=493

Professor David McLauchlin, a contract law specialist, saying he increasingly found New Zealand cases not worth the effort of reading – “Decisions are reached that fail to reflect the reasonable expectations of the parties. And sometimes they simply defy common sense,”

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