When Are Your Pleadings Embarrassing?

If a Judge or practitioner ever refers to your pleadings as embarrassing don’t necessarily take it personally. Embarrassing pleadings is a defined term and refers more to the intention of the pleading instead of the skill of the person drafting it.

Embarrassing Pleadings

A pleading is embarrassing where it is “unintelligible, ambiguous, vague or too general, so as to embarrass the opposite party who does not know what is alleged against him” Meckiff v Simpson [1968] VR 62 at 70.

In Shelton v National Roads & Motorists Association Limited [2004] FCA 1393 at [18], Tamberlin J explained the concept of “embarrassment” with respect to pleadings:

Embarrassment in this context refers to a pleading that is susceptible to various meanings, or contains inconsistent allegations, or in which alternatives are confusingly intermixed, or in which irrelevant allegations are made that tend to increase expense. This is not an exhaustive list of situations in which a pleading may be embarrassing: see Bartlett v Swan Television & Radio Broadcasters Pty Ltd (1995) ATPR 41-434.

Pleadings can be embarrassing even when they do contains an adequate cause of action if the facts they rely upon are expressed in such a way as to leave difficulties or doubts about figuring out what they are exactly referring to. This can be through generalities, vagueness or any other framing of the proceedings that prevents the defendant from knowing in advance the case it is required to meet.

Remedy

If the court considers pleadings to be embarrassing then the appropriate remedy is to strike out the pleading rather than to order the provision of particulars. This may seem harsh, but the reality is that it is not the function of particulars to replace the necessary components of a pleading, simply to augment them.

Pleadings are everything. Actions are often commenced with insufficient pleadings with too many lawyers thinking that they can simply amend at a later date if the pleadings are found to be insufficient. Unfortunately, for the client, this will normally be accompanied with a big costs order if the court allows it at all.

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