Anyone who studies law will eventually have to read judgements. But what is the best way to read a case to fully understand it? Reading lengthy judgements is a tedious but most important task for a law student. As a law student you might have to prepare summaries too!
When reading a case you will need to know what the typical structure of a case report looks like, which will help you to make sense of what you’re reading. Eventually, you’ll also need to be able to learn how to follow the often complex legal reasoning in judgments, and to understand what precedent is created by any given case. This is a skill built up over time and requires some practice. This section introduces you to some of these skills, and gives a brief overview. For more information, we suggest you look at some of the Further Reading, which gives more detailed worked examples.
But what is a Case/Judgement?
As a law student, you should learn first what exactly is a ‘Judgement. Judgment, in all legal systems, a decision of a court adjudicating the rights of the parties to a legal action before it. A legal judgement is given by a judge and definitely, the opinions are not written with the law student in mind.
Law students routinely have trouble understanding the importance of the disputed question unless they also understand the background of undisputed questions of law that are not being discussed. The beginner is thrown into the world of the law, and quite often, into the deep end of the pool.
For you to understand the facts, focus on following three things:
- what has happened that has provoked someone to take this case to court;
- what happened at the trial court that has provoked someone to appeal;
- what did the higher court do with this case.
You might not understand a case at first reading
While reading a case for a first time, you don’t understand that much of it, or you might not understand what the main points are. Don’t worry, just try reading the case again, and take your time with it.
It’s a good idea to skim read the case report/summary available first, to get a general overview. And then read the important parts again in more detail.
Read it several times
Read the case several times, and read it carefully. It’s a completely different skill from, for example, reading a novel or a newspaper.
Break the Case into following components
As you start to read judgements, divide the it following sections. It will help you to understand it effectively as you go on to read judgements till the end.
- name of the case;
- name of the court which decided the case;
- date of decision;
- citation of the case;
- name of judge or judges;
- procedure by which case came before court or tribunal (if original jurisdiction so state). This may also include-
- the relief the plaintiff asked in the lower court
- what defendant asked the lower court to do
- what the lower court was complained of by the party appealing
- the facts before court for decision. In setting out complicated facts adopt chronological order;
- the legal question or questions or issues involved;
- important arguments of counsel;
- reasons for decision and
- reasons for dissenting opinions, if any.
Notes. Notes. Notes.
Make notes. Make notes as you read, and even draw diagrams if it helps you make sense of what the judges are saying. It will help you to keep track of what were the facts and avoid confusions. You may create notes by following these points.
What to Focus?
Know and understand the root cause of filing the case- The prime and the foremost thing which should be done is to know the root cause of getting the case registered.
And finally, don’t become discouraged! This is a skill that really does become easier the more you practice it. Keep the practice of reading the judgments on a regular basis in order to master in the art of learning the judgments, and then you can see the change.
After you’re done reading this article, I want you to read ‘How to Write Case Briefs?‘.
I hope this article was useful to you!
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