How To Read A Law Case?
- Marvin Harvey
Guidance on reading cases Reading a case One of the primary sources of law that you will be expected to read during your law degree is case law. Case law sources are reports of what judges decide following a dispute or issue having been brought to court.
Not every case will be reported in the law reports. You will find that cases are available in hardcopy book form in your university library, in volumes such as the All England Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports or the Law Reports (the Law Reports consists of 4 series Appeal Cases, containing decisions of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and Queen’s Bench, Chancery and Family, containing cases from the High Court, Court of Appeal and references to the European Court of Justice).
These are also available electronically; the main electronic databases you are likely to have access to are Lexislibrary and Westlaw. Additionally, some cases may be accessed electronically from the British and Irish Legal information Institute () which is a free website containing, amongst other sources, British and Irish case law.
Law reports, whether online or in hard copy, contain the judgments of the judges delivered in the cases. The following is a brief explanation of what features you will find in a case reported in the All England Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports or the Law Reports and some general guidance as to how to read a case.
(Note the lay-out of cases in the reports identified does differ but generally the information is the same. Additionally in the Law Reports you will find the arguments presented to the court.) Features of a case When reading a case you should be noting various pieces of information, in particular: the case name; the citation; the court deciding the case; what was the issue in the case; what decision did the court reach in the case; and how did the court arrive at its decision.
- A case reported in the All England Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports or the Law Reports (Appeal Cases, Queen’s Bench Division, Chancery Division and Family Division) will commence with the name of the case e.g.
- Marks and Spencer plc v BNP Paribas Securities Services Trust Co (Jersey) Ltd and another 3 WLR 1843 which is used to identify the case as a source of law.
So if you want to use a statement of law from the case in a seminar or in an essay or in a moot it will be necessary to refer to the case name. Immediately after the case name the court deciding the case is indicated e.g. in the Marks &Spencer case, the Supreme Court,
- This information is important when asking the question, ‘are statements of law binding on the other courts?’ (see Chapter 5 on the doctrine of judicial precedent).
- Next in the law report appears the neutral citation and the law report citation for the case, e.g.
- Neutral citation UKSC 72 and citation 3 W.L.R.1843.
This tells you exactly where to find the case. The neutral citation relates to a transcript of a case available electronically. The transcript is organised in paragraphs (rather than pages) to allow precise reference to be made to judges’ words in that case.
- Under the citations the names of the judge or judges will be stated.
- The number of judges depends upon the court that is deciding the case.
- In the Marks & Spencer case, as it was the Supreme Court, there were 5 judges (but note cases in the Supreme Court may be heard by 7 or 9 judges depending upon the importance of a case).
The case report will then give an indication of the subject matter of a case in the catchwords, These words will help you decide if the case is one relevant to your research. The Marks & Spencer case concerns implied terms in commercial contracts. Very helpful guidance is given by the next feature the headnote,
- The first important point to note is that the headnote is not a definitive statement of the law; it is a summary of the facts and decision in a case prepared by the person reporting the case, usually a barrister, whose name appears at the end of the case, but not the words of the judges.
- For statements of law you must read the judgments delivered by the judges in the case.
However, the headnote allows you to have an overview understanding of the facts and decision and will help you navigate the judgments of the judges in the case. Note that in the headnote there may be an indication as to how previous cases are used in deciding the reported case e.g.
- Whether a previous case is followed or overruled, affirmed or reversed.
- After the headnote the cases referred to by the judge or judges in the judgments are listed.
- If a case has been appealed then the report will next explain the history of the case i.e.
- Where it commenced in the courts and from which court the appeal is made.
The names of the barristers and the parties they represent will appear in a case. The judgments will then appear in the case. The judgments are the most important part of a case because this is where the judges will state the law, seek to apply it to the facts of the case and then reach a decision.
- It is important to read the judgments in the cases to which you are referred by your tutors.
- When reading judgments it is important first to identify what it is that a court has been asked to decide.
- Bearing this in mind you can then read the judgment or judgments and seek to discover how the court answers this question.
Remember in reading a case you are looking for statements of law, either the ratio decidendi of the case or obiter dicta, In order for the law stated to be the ratio decidendi of the case it must answer the question asked that the court has been asked.
- A statement of law which does not relate to the facts of the case or lead to the decision in the case must necessarily be an obiter dictum.
- The importance of the distinction is that the ratio decidendi of a previous case is binding on a later court (depending upon the rules of stare decisis) whereas an obiter dictum is not binding, being merely persuasive.
A case decided by, for example, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court will usually contain more than one judgment. It is essential that you read all of the judgments as judges may agree or may dissent. If dissenting judgments are given, it will be necessary to find agreement amongst a majority of the judges to establish the ratio decidendi of a case.
- However, be aware that judges may say that they are in agreement as to the decision to be reached in the case but then give different reasons for arriving at their decisions.
- Again a majority in favour of a reason for deciding a case must be found, otherwise the ratio will be uncertain.
- An example from the law of contract illustrates some of these difficulties; see Transfield Shipping Inc v Mercator Shipping Inc (The Achilleas) UKHL 28; 1 AC 61 where the opinions of five law lords showed two separate approaches to the issue before the House of Lords (two Law Lords for each approach) and the fifth Lord appeared to agree with both approaches.
In seeking to understand what was decided in a case you may be able to consult a subsequent case which seeks to interpret a previous case; in relation to The Achilleas see Sylvia Shipping Co Ltd v Progress Bulk Carriers Ltd (The Sylvia) EWHC 542 (Comm); 2 Lloyd’s Rep 81,
- As you learn to read cases you will become familiar with the reasoning techniques employed by judges.
- One technique which may lead the new law student into error is the reversal of a rule by judges to test the impact of the rule.
- A cursory reading of a case may lead a student to think that this is the rule, when in fact the judge then undoes the reversal and pronounces that the first statement of the rule is correct.
See Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists 2 Q.B.795, where Lord Goddard uses this technique to decide whether or not a display of goods in a self-service store is an offer or an invitation to treat. The decision in the Pharmaceutical case was the subject of an appeal to the Court of Appeal 1 QB 401 where the decision was affirmed; the Court of Appeal adopted the reasoning of Lord Goddard.
What are the three main components in reading of a court case?
Reading a Case Citation – Cases are published in reporters. A case citation is generally made up of the following parts:
- the names of the parties involved in the lawsuit
- the volume number of the reporter containing the full text of the case
- the abbreviated name of that case reporter
- the page number on which the case begins the year the case was decided; and sometimes
- the name of the court deciding the case.
Below is an example of a case citation: Hebb v. Severson, 201 P.2d 156 (Wash.1948). In this example, Hebb and Severson are the parties in the case. The case can be found in volume 201 of the Pacific Reporter, Second Series beginning on page 156. The case was decided by the Washington State Supreme Court in 1948.
How do you read a case name?
Case Name. Generally, there are two names given for a case. This is to explain the parties involved. The first name is meant to identify the party which is bringing the court action and the name placed second is the name of the party against whom the action is being brought.
Can I learn law by myself?
Should I Study Law and Go Into the Legal Field? – If you recently passed class 12th or if you are a guardian of such a student, this thought definitely comes to you – should I (or my child) go into law? The short answer is yes. There is no harm in joining the legal field.
What is the book of laws?
Amazon.com: The Book Of The Law: 9798723384798: Crowley, Aleister: Libros Liber AL vel Legis, commonly known as The Book of the Law, is the central sacred text of Thelema. Written by Aleister Crowley, with his wife Rose Edith Kelly who wrote two phrases into the finished manuscript, Crowley claimed it was dictated to him by a preternatural being calling himself Aiwass.
The book’s three chapters are largely written in a first-person narrative by the Thelemic deities Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit respectively.Through the reception of the Book, Crowley proclaimed the arrival of a new stage in the spiritual evolution of humanity, to be known as the “Ã†on of Horus”.The primary precept of this new aeon is the charge to “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”.The book contains three chapters, each of which was alleged to be written down in one hour, beginning at noon, on 8 April, 9 April, and 10 April in Cairo, Egypt, in the year 1904.Crowley says that the author was an entity named Aiwass, whom he later referred to as his personal Holy Guardian Angel.
Crowley himself wrote “Certain very serious questions have arisen with regard to the method by which this Book was obtained. I do not refer to those doubtsâ€”real or pretendedâ€”which hostility engenders, for all such are dispelled by study of the text; no forger could have prepared so complex a set of numerical and literal puzzles”The book is often referred to simply as Liber AL, Liber Legis or just AL, though technically the latter two refer only to the manuscript.
How do you memorize a law book?
Read a page, read again, read while categorizing important parts (in mind), read again making associations (in mind), then read once more using your own examples. each chapter or each page.