Court bundles – how to prepare them properly

February 1st, 2019
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By Amarentiea Pienaar

The purpose of this article is not to list specific examples of different court bundles and their indexes, but to list general guidelines on how to prepare various court bundles regardless of whether it is for an unopposed motion, an opposed motion or a trial.

You must always have regard to the obligatory guidelines on indexing and pagination in your specific jurisdiction before you commence with the task (for example, see practice rules 6.3 Gauteng directive (bundles in civil trials); Johannesburg directive 6.3 and Gauteng directive 13.2 to 13.4 (motion proceedings); and Johannesburg directive 9.2 to 9.4 and Practice Direction 10 in the Land Claims Court relating to all documents).

The golden rule when you prepare any court bundle is to start timeously and to prepare it well.

How do you achieve this?

Step 1 – determine the purpose of the bundle

Personally, I distinguish between ‘prescribed bundles’ and ‘substantial evidence bundles’.

The content of prescribed bundles are normally obligatory and prescribed by a directive. This bundle is normally a mere compilation of a group of documents of the specified class, collated and numbered consecutively in one bundle. The content thereof requires little in the way of thought processes from the compiler. All that the compiler must do is to group the documents of the correct class in a specified order and manner. This rarely presents any difficulty as paralegals and junior staff should be well able to execute a basic instruction such as this. Typical examples of prescribed bundles are –

  • pleadings bundles;
  • pre-amendment pleadings bundles;
  • notices bundles; and
  • pre-trial minute bundles.

The content of substantial evidence bundles are not prescribed. This bundle separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff. It is a compilation of all the pieces of the puzzle that you will assemble when you present your client’s case. The content thereof requires thought and careful consideration from the compiler. This is the most difficult bundle to compile. Typical examples of substantial evidence bundles are the combined documents bundle and the expert evidence bundle. The discovery bundle may, in certain circumstances, also be considered to belong to this class. The compilation of these bundles requires a clear understanding of not only one’s own case as they appear on the pleadings, but also that of the opposition.

Step 2 – determine what documents need to be included in the bundle

The purpose of the bundle will determine which documents should be included in the bundle and which should be left out.

The rule is that only documents relevant to the purpose of the specific bundle should be included in that bundle.

With prescribed bundles, relevance will normally be determined by the class or group of documents to be included in that bundle. One will not include a notice of intention to defend with the pleadings bundle. Why? The notice of intention to defend is a notice – not a pleading. It does not belong to the class or group of documents called pleadings. It is irrelevant for the purposes of that bundle and should accordingly be excluded.

With a substantial evidence bundle – relevance will be determined by answering the following questions:

  • What ruling or finding does the party require the judge to make or what relief is sought by that party (even if only dismissal and costs), in other words, what is the application or hearing about from the point of view of the compiler’s client?
  • What documents will the judge require to make the required ruling or finding in other words, the so-called vital/key documents for the order required? Note that the vital documents will not only include the documents central to the disputes between the parties, but also documents on evidence that are undisputed.

What evidence is available to rebut the other party’s assertions in support of the finding or ruling that they require – whether in direct contradiction or on probabilities?

Step 3 – sort your documents in chronological order according to purpose and relevance

With prescribed bundles, the compilation would normally entail a simple exercise of sorting the documents in a specific group, in date order, from first to last.

With a substantial evidence bundle, the date on the documents does not necessarily determine the sequence in which they are included in the bundle. The chronology will be determined by the sequence in which the events/evidence will be presented at the hearing. This may closely follow the date sequence of the documents, but will not always be so. If we use an unopposed divorce as an example you will start with the summons, the return of service and then the marriage certificate and birth certificates of any children born into the marriage. The date of the marriage and birth certificates may well be before that of the summons, but the judge will first want to read what the matter is about and ensure that all technical requirements have been complied with before you will be allowed to call your witness to give evidence on the date of the marriage and the birth of any children.

With the combined documents bundle, it is important to first read all the documents and understand all the issues in dispute. A proper understanding of all the parties’ respective cases in the matter is of vital importance. Thereafter, one needs to contemplate strategically on the sequence in which the evidence will be presented to not only present the client’s case in a logical and structured fashion, but also to effectively attack the opponent’s case. This will assist in avoiding the ‘keep your finger at page 54 and turn to page 99’ routine. It works well to follow the same sequence of addressing disputes than the sequence followed in the pleadings. If one could use as example an elementary claim to repair or replace the damage to a motor you will start with the documents that relate to the identity of the parties, followed by those relating to the ownership of the vehicle (locus standi), the fact of damage caused, the issue of fault (negligence), the calculation of the damages and finally demands made and reactions received thereto. It is important to bear in mind that a combined documents bundle should include documents relating to both disputed and undisputed issues. If you use counsel, it may be prudent to ask them for their input on the sequence of the documents in the bundle before you finalise your bundle. The ideal is that when the judge pre-reads the bundle, it should read like a book and should give the judge a clear picture of how the evidence will unfold. When bundles are prepared electronically it is most useful to annotate the index at the side of each document with a reference to the item number of the document in the discovery bundle, or to create a hyperlink to the original document. This will curtail disputes on whether a document was discovered or not, and if discovered when and how it was so discovered. The combined documents bundle is by its nature intended to be used by all the parties. Agree on the content and the sequence of the documents with your opponent before you finalise the bundle. Do not duplicate documents in this bundle.

In general

  • The court bundle is supposed to make everybody’s life easier and it should be user friendly. Keep it simple and do not clutter it with unnecessary documents.
  • Documents that are not relevant for the purpose of the bundle should be omitted.
  • If possible, use available technology to prepare your bundle. There are several desktop and Internet applications that you can use to prepare your bundles electronically. Other than the immense time-saving factor, the legibility and general quality of the documents in these bundles – when uploaded from the original source document – are much better than the copies that inevitably end up being made of copies, of copies, of copies. Photographs and diagrams can be included in colour. Technology also permits the insertion of annotations and hyperlinks to the different documents that saves time from searching for documents during preparation or presentation of the case.
  • Technology also permits the annotation and cross-referencing by hyperlink for purposes of preparation of the case – whether in leading witnesses or challenging evidence of the other party.
  • Inquire of the judge whether they would prefer an electronic copy of the indexed and paginated papers.
  • Do not add filing notices to the pleadings bundle. Filing notices should be included in the notices bundle.
  • With a motion, include a lost file/original affidavit (if applicable) and a draft order in your bundle.
  • Make a separate bundle for witness statements and affidavits. Start with those of the plaintiff first and then add those of the defendant. Avoid adding the same exhibit or annexure to each statement or document – rather index these separately or as a subfolder and create an annotation or a hyperlink to the exhibit/affidavit.
  • When you prepare your index, it is not helpful if you merely identify a document as ‘Annexure A’ or ‘Annexure B’. Give a short description of the content of the annexure, for example: Annexure A – cancellation letter by X to Z dated 3 March 2000.
  • Correspondence and e-mails should clearly reference the content thereof. It is meaningless to describe a document as letter from attorney A to attorney B, especially if a number of these letters where exchanged on the same day. Give a short description of what the letters are about.
  • A complete copy of the e-mail and correspondence should be included in the discovery bundle, but in the combined documents bundle strip the e-mails from their trails and from pages containing irrelevant information like advertisements, anti-
    virus warnings and confidentiality notices. If the e-mail is a reply to a previous mail, limit the trail to only the first paragraph of the previous e-mail for identification purposes, and index and paginate each e-mail or reply separately in date order from first received/send to last received/send. Insert an annotation and/or a hyperlink to the original e-mail in the discovery bundle.
  • Consult the practice manual or directive to determine the maximum number of pages for each bundle. Rather have less pages in a bundle than continue with part of the document in the next bundle. You may exceed the page restriction slightly if it will avoid continuation of the document to the next bundle.
  • Paginate numerically in the top right-hand corner of the document.
  • Do not paginate too close to the edge of the document – the number may be outside the printable margin or lost in copying.
  • Paginate per page – do not paginate per document.
  • Try to ensure that each page has only one number at the top right-hand corner thereof. Remove or strike out previous numbering.
  • Avoid late insertions. Index and paginate your bundle timeously. It is better to use a blank page in place of the outstanding document. If you paginate late insertions as 7.1, 7.2 etcetera, the page number of the PDF-copy of your document will not correspond with the pagination on your document. In your PDF-document page 8 will then be page 7.1, page 9 will be page 7.2 and page 10 will be page 8 of you paginate papers. It may also invalidate hyperlinks that have been included in electronic formatting of bundles.
  • Paginate the document before you make copies of the bundle.

Finally, consider if you are proud to affix your name and signature as compiler to the bundle or not. If the bundle is a source of endless embarrassment to you, it is recommended that you must start at step 1 again.

Are court bundles a friend or foe?

Nowadays, South African courts require indexed and paginated court bundles for everything. Sadly, most of us seem to consider this requirement to be a wasted effort, an unnecessary expense and a task that must be delegated to the most junior of junior members of our staff.

If you are of like mind, consider why retired English District Judge Paul Waterworth stated that: ‘A good bundle cannot win a bad case, but a bad bundle can damage a good case’ (District Judge Paul Waterworth ‘Trial bundles: Why are they important and how to get them right’ The Law Society Gazette, 28-1-2010) (www.lawgazette.co.uk, accessed 5-12-2018).

The answer is simple – a properly prepared court bundle is an invaluable tool and an invaluable asset used for the preparation, presentation and determination of your client’s matter.

The value of documentary evidence in the preparation and presentation of any case should never be underestimated. To a large extent documentary evidence provides the contemporaneous record of the events leading up to litigation. Documents capture the time line within which the disputed events occurred, and they record facts, and very often the smallest fact on which the case turns. They also, within context, establish the other party’s contemporaneous response or the lack of the response to those facts – which in turn influences the probabilities in evidence. Documents are indispensable in tying witnesses to dates and events during the presentation of their evidence. They are also indispensable in cross-examining the opponent’s witnesses.

If one considers the process of presenting evidence at trial as comparable with that of building a puzzle, the evidence represents pieces of the puzzle that are to be assembled in a pre-determined order to build a specific picture. Each piece of evidence tells a small part of the whole story, fits in a specific place, cannot be replaced by another piece, complements all the other pieces, and stands out like a sore thumb when missing or incorrect. It is the one party’s job to build the puzzle by assembling the evidence so that it portrays a clear and comprehensive whole of all the component pieces, which supports the probabilities of the case and which corroborate one another. It is the opposing party’s job to try to distort that picture by presenting credible contradictory evidence or evidence that renders the first party’s picture improbable. It is the function of the presiding officer – be it a judicial officer or an arbitrator to determine whether they accept the picture or whether they reject the evidence.

When one prepares a bundle for use in court (or at an arbitration and the like), you are in effect preparing a box of puzzle pieces that you will use to build your picture. In addition thereto, you are determining the appropriate place to introduce that piece of the puzzle during the presentation of evidence, and the value that should be attributed to that piece. If you prepare your client’s court bundle in a logical and structured manner from the outset it will simplify the presentation of, not only, documentary evidence but also oral evidence at the hearing.

When done poorly, your court bundle will have the following disadvantages:

  • You will appear to be unprepared.
  • You will waste time in court, looking for documents.
  • You run the risk of confusing your witness.
  • You may present your evidence in an illogical manner that may distort the picture that you are trying to paint.
  • You may well also confuse the judge so that points that should carry the case to success become lost in the confusion.
  • You will have difficulty in discrediting the opponent’s case.
  • You may have to seek a postponement that will have cost implications for you and your client.
  • The judge will most likely criticise you.

When done properly, your court bundle will have the following advantages:

Preparation

  • It helps you to focus on what remains to be resolved (the disputes);
  • it assists you to consider which documents are required to determine the remaining disputes;
  • it affords you the opportunity to prepare for the hearing effectively, saving your client money; and
  • it allows the presiding officer to, when pre-reading the papers, determine what story is to unfold at court without an undue waste of time.

Presentation

  • It helps you to present your case in a logical order;
  • it enhances the smooth flow of the hearing;
  • it reduces the time spend at court;
  • it makes it easier to refer to information during the hearing;
  • it can be used to lead your witness or to cross-examine a witness effectively;
  • it avoids unnecessary postponements; and
  • it avoids embarrassment and costly errors – you will not close your case without presenting all the necessary documents included in your bundle.

Determination

  • It saves the presiding officer time when refreshing their memory on the evidence led at the hearing and the disputes that they must determine;
  • it assists the presiding officer to prepare their written judgment in a reasonable time; and
  • it avoids wrong rulings and/or judgments.

The time and money spent on preparing proper court bundles is well worth it. The process should be embraced. We will achieve more by considering it our friend than making it our dreaded enemy.

Amarentiea Pienaar BCom LLB (NWU) is an attorney at Möller & Pienaar Attorneys in Pretoria.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2019 (JanFeb) DR 22.

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