Time to Ditch ‘Word Count’ in Favour of Bytes

There’s an amusing detail in the judgment of Mr Justice Peel in WC v HC (Financial Remedies Agreements) [2022] EWFC 22:

The parties’ s25 statements were limited to 20 pages of narrative.  Para 5.2 of PD27A mandates that narrative statements, among other documents, shall be typed in “a font no smaller than 12 point and with 1½ or double spacing”. H complied. W’s statement purported to comply in that it consisted of 20 pages, but because it used smaller font and spacing it was, in fact, about 27 pages compressed within the 20 page limit provided for by me.

— Paragraph 1(i)

This is a classic tactic that has been used by students the world over since the dawn of the word processing age. When I did it as a school boy, the aim was to increase the margins and font spacing so that one had to write less. Here, the tactic was deployed in order to write more.

Since we routinely use computers for everything, its time we abandoned the analogue concept of ‘pages’ as the standard for submissions. Why not simply specify a word count?

Or better still, bytes. There are 1,498 bytes of text in this blog post, for example. A 20 page document typeset at 12 point, 1.5 lines amounts to 45 to 50 Kb of text. Imposing a rule based on data would kill off any typesetting trickery, but also incentivise plain language — because drafters would not be penalised for using three shorter words in preference to one longer word.

(Hat-tip to Gordon Exall and the superb Civil Litigation Brief blog)

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