Paul McMahon has a post at Ex Tempore on paragraph numbers in Irish Supreme Court decisions.
I know these paragraph numbers from decisions of the European Court of Justice. They are called Randnummern in German.
German law books tend to have paragraphs numbered this way, but these are usually translated as marginal numbers. That means we have two separate translations of the word.
Recently I had to translate Randnummer in connection with a report from the Commission to the Council and to the European Parliament. The following several paragraphs were referred to as a Randnummer in German:
3.3.3. Cases of withdrawal of reception conditions
Articles 16(1)-(3) specify the situations in which reception conditions granted to asylum
seekers may be reduced or withdrawn (e.g. non-compliance with reporting duties, undue
benefits from material reception conditions).
Some Member States withdraw reception conditions in situations not authorised by the
Directive (FI, DE, NL and some regions of AT).
Only a few Member States choose, under Article 16(2), to refuse the reception conditions for
asylum seekers not submitting their applications as soon as possible (EL, MT, CY, UK). In
the latter case, however, use of the provision was seriously limited by the judgment of the
House of Lords concerning compliance with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human
My feeling was to simply omit the word Randnummer and quote the 3.3.3. But I was told that the practice appears to be to refer to paragraph 3.3.3, (‘rather than section’ – but section was not the word I suspected, since this isn’t a statute).
Anyway, back to Ireland. Paul McMahon says that five of the eight judges don’t number their paragraphs, and the other three do. He is in two minds about these paragraph numbers, which seems appropriate. And he refers to the unobtrustive right-hand marginal numbers of the German Federal Constitutional Court as an elegant solution.
I’m in two minds about paragraph numbers in judicial decisions. They are rather unattractive, and I think they contribute to the exaggerated belief that explaining a judicial decision requires a technical form of writing, divorced from ordinary discourse. But my views are probably coloured by my experiences working in the American federal courts, where it’s unusual to see numbered paragraphs. (For more on the subject of judicial written style, I recommend Judge Richard Posner’s fascinating article on the subject (JSTOR access required)).
The post is taken up by Eoin in cearta.ie. He thinks the rise of paragraph numbers outside the US is for purposes of orientation.
It’s been a long time since I thought of the numbering system in published English reports. There you would have a report, and in the left-hand margin, every 5 lines or so, was a letter A, B C etc. and you would quote it by referring to the nearest letter: ‘p. 25, at B’.
But I use the internet now, and citation procedures are different.
(Via UKSC Blog)