Reading judgments is nothing less than art, and the beauty is in the details. It takes much time and effort to navigate and comprehend the complicated passages. It is essential to know the constituents of a judgment to read it effectively. Generally, you will find the name of the court, the names of the judges on the bench, the name of the parties, citations, the facts of the case, the issues of law and facts, the arguments of both parties, the finding of the court, and the reasoning behind the decision. It is important to remember that all the judges on the bench may not agree with each other, and one should read the whole judgment to understand the different reasonings given by them. Now that you know the anatomy of a case and what to expect from it, let us start reading judgments in a structured way.
From the judgment of the author judge:
When reading a judgment, it is better to start from the judgment of the author judge. When only one judge is writing the judgment, it is no mystery who the author judge is. Confusion arises when there are several judges, and you will find that other judges either agree with the main judgment, make separate comments, or dissent from it. It is appropriate to start from the main judgment. It mentions the facts of the case in detail that others might skip to avoid repetition. It will also help you to pinpoint the rationale of why the judge gave that particular decision.
Facts of the case:
The facts of the case provide a clear context for the case. Read the facts and note down the summary of what you read in two or three sentences. While noting down, simplify the facts in a logical and ordered summary of events. You need to read and summarise consciously, as all the facts are probably not that important. If the absence of a fact would result in different reasoning, that particular fact is essential. Proper comprehension of facts will be helpful when you read the subsequent parts of the judgments, where those are referred to while explaining the rationale.
Issues arise when one party affirms a fact and the other party denies it. Lawyers base their arguments on these issues of law and fact, while judges try to resolve these in their decision focusing more on legal issues than factual matters. It is cardinal to understand the issues of law and issues of fact in the context of the facts.
Arguments of both parties:
Argument formation is an art. Counsels of the parties form arguments on issues of law and fact and help the judges with the dispensation of justice. Try to pinpoint the distinction between the submissions of the parties. Such differentiation is indispensable to precisely understand the reasons and basis of both submissions. Each argument is crafted by lawyers after considering varieties of elements, principles, and reasonings and is particularly essential to understand different perspectives. These arguments even create different jurisprudence and legal questions. For instance, the question of a paradox in Articles 7(2) and 8(2) of the Constitution of Bangladesh first arrived through the arguments in the case of Kudrat- E- Elahi Panir and Ors. v Bangladesh (1991).1 Thus it is essential for a student to focus on why a particular argument was crafted by lawyers, the principles and reasoning behind it, and how it affected the reasoning behind the decision of the case.
The reasoning behind the decision:
this is the most intriguing part of the judgment. You need to make a clear distinction between ratio and obiter. While ratio means the main legal reasoning behind the decision, obiter stands for the judge’s opinion uttered in court but not predominant to the decision.
In the ratio decidendi, the court summarises the observation and applies legal principles of cases. You will understand the essence of the judgment from this part. Interpretations of different laws are given here, along with cases the court relies on to reach a particular conclusion. The ratio is the core of reading the judgments. It is a good practice to summarise the ratio in a few lines. When you read cases, have bare acts near and read the sections mentioned.
Obiter is an important portion of the judgment, which everyone often neglects. In case analysis, Obiter is necessary to understand the approach or ideology of the judge. Especially in the separate and dissenting opinions, you will find judges giving explanations beyond what is required for the case’s outcome. It is crucial to understand the different legal aspects and reasoning behind the same case.
Headnotes/ Case note:
Some law reports add headnotes at the beginning of the cases to help you digest the contentious points. Headnotes are essentially summaries of the main issues in a case written by the law reporter. These will be helpful to get an overview of the key points of the case before you start reading. Sadly, all of the law reports do not come with headnotes. Sometimes the quality of the headnote is also questionable. So, relying on headnotes alone is never sufficient. However, it comes in handy to understand what to expect from the case.
Reading judgments is a time-consuming task. So, you may skim the whole judgment and eliminate trivial things when you read it. Try to observe the relevant portion of the decision and focus on the gist to get a comprehensive idea about the judgment. Reading the whole judgment line by line is neither practical nor necessary every time you read any judgment. I cannot put enough emphasis on taking clear and concise notes and summarising the vital pieces of information in brief and precise points. Nonetheless, you can always browse through other methods and evaluate which works better for you.
- 20 CLC HCD 5628 ↩︎