Case Analysis

This article explains the importance of analyzing cases in the legal field and the purpose of case analysis. It also provides a guide on how to read and understand cases, including the significance of headnotes, facts, and issues in case analysis. Further, it emphasizes the need for a slower, more careful approach to reading cases, comparing different case reports, and understanding cases in their historical context.

Meaning of Analysis

Although in most legal systems, statutory law plays a far more critical role in the day-to-day life of individuals than cases decided by courts, many legal studies focus, wholly or in part, on the understanding and analysis of cases.

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The fundamental reason for giving attention to cases is that courts interpret statutes, constitutional provisions and administrative regulations, explain earlier court opinions on points of legal significance, and declare the meaning and scope of the application of legal rules. In addition, they often develop and express new legal regulations and principles.

Purpose of Analysis

Analysis of cases is the process of identifying and understanding legal principles. Cases may be analyzed for a variety of purposes, which may include the following:

1. To see whether a court opinion based on a case applies to a given fact situation. Lawyers routinely do this as part of their professional work. This may also be done by students required to write a problem-based assignment (essay, term paper, project, etc.), often done by researchers working on a dissertation and thesis.

2. To compare two or more or a series of cases to examine how the courts have decided cases on specific legal issues, such as the parameters used by courts in awarding damages for unfair dismissal or professional negligence.

3. To examine the ‘approach’ adopted by courts for critical analysis and evaluation of the appropriateness or otherwise of the judicial attitude on a specific matter, such as the court approach on certain provisions of the constitution or in issues of employer-employee disputes.

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Reading a Case

In this regard, the following steps are to be followed carefully:

1. Slower Reading

Fast or quick movement is the rule of the day. But in case law analysis, this is not a good principle. “Fast reading’ of case law does not produce the best result in studying or assimilating case law.

For example, a speedy reading may lead to an inaccurate comprehension of ratio decidendi or preclude the reader from appreciating the delicate nuances of a case or a point emerging from between the lines.

On the other hand, a slower reader with watchful eyes may get enough time to grasp the facts and statements to assess the attitude of the court and its feelings to ascertain the law.

2. Comparing Different Case Reports

Usually, the judgments pronounced by a Superior Court are reported in many journals and reports. When more than one report is available to the researcher, he must look at them because new ideas often strike the reader when he compares different case reports. Moreover, with time, reporting processes acquire more straightforward and subtle forms. Therefore, their reading may help in the emergence of new ideas; as far as possible unabridged reports should be compared to determine if there is a difference between them.

3. Reading Case Law in its Historical Context

The historical background of a case is of considerable importance as it sheds light on the proper grounds of and on the policy related to the decision. It also helps in distinguishing the case from other similar cases or treating it as absolute or as obscure. Similarly, the reading of cases in their political, social, and economic context is equally essential from the point of view of the problem at hand, especially in the area of property rights, right to liberty, freedom of trade and commerce, use changes in these areas are very frequent.

Understanding Cases

In any legal research involving case law analysis, a good understanding of the various parts of a case is the first step.

1. Headnotes

Headnotes, which are found at the beginning of a case, generally provide a piece of brief information as to the facts of the case, the main issues involved, the holding of the court, and often give a summary of the main points in the court’s ruling.

The paragraphs in the headnotes are usually arranged in the same sequence in which the issues are to be taken up by judges. In some law reports, the headnotes also mention the cases followed, overturned, or distinguished.

However, the cases merely considered are generally not mentioned in the headnotes. Instead, before the beginning of the judgment, a list of all the cases used in the parties’ arguments or used in the judgment is provided, indicating which cases were merely considered, followed, not followed, distinguished, and so on.

Editors of the concerned law report prepare headnotes. These are copyrighted material, whereas the reported case is not.

In a case analysis, the researcher should not rely only on headnotes. It is necessary that the case in full, or those parts that are relevant to the research, should be examined. Headnotes may sometimes be misleading.

2. Facts

Facts are statements of what happened that gave rise to legal issues (both in civil and criminal proceedings) presented before the court for its judgment.

A court, before discussing the legal issues, expressing its opinion on the issues, giving its decision, and entering the judgment, states the facts presented by the concerned parties.

Not all cases involve simple and brief facts. Often the facts are stated in elaborate detail and are complicated.

Understanding the facts is essential because the essence of case law research requires locating cases with similar factual circumstances. A case with like facts will often deal with issues identical to those in the problem being researched.

3. Issues

Cases resolve legal disputes presented by the concerned parties. Legal issues emerge from the disputed facts presented by the parties. However, the court finally determines the legal issues upon which the court is called to decide.

Sometimes, there may be only one legal issue based on simple facts. The statement of law made by the court on such an issue will be its holding (the ratio decidendi).

On the other hand, some cases may involve several issues, and the court may have to give its ruling on all such issues.

The researcher’s task is to pick up only such issues and rulings relevant to the matter under consideration, leaving out the rest. A researcher often has to deal with many cases, each containing several legal issues. Therefore, the researcher should first select the most relevant cases and then pick up only those issues and rulings relevant to some aspects of the study.

4. Decision

A decision is the court’s conclusion. The conclusion is based on the particular facts of the case and the legal rule or principle that the court applies to the facts. The effect of a decision is to resolve the disputed issue.

For example, a civil case determines the rights and liabilities of parties (plaintiff and defendant, or appellant and respondent), declares who wins and who loses, and provides the relief and remedies accordingly. In a criminal case, it determines whether the accused/defendant is liable for the alleged offence. The decision of the court is the outcome of the case.

5. Judgment

The term judgment is used in two senses.

In its limited sense, it refers to the ultimate order of the court, such as an order that dismisses an appeal, determines the damages payable by a party, or determines the punishment.

In its general sense, the word refers to the whole case- issues, the decision and the reasons the court gives for its decision.

6. Judicial Reasoning

Reasoning is the process the court uses in choosing a rule and applying it to the facts of the case it is considering. The rule may be found in a constitutional or statutory provision, administrative regulations, court rules, cases decided earlier, a customary practice, or any other source recognizable judicially.

The rule may also be found in unwritten principles or concepts such as the ‘principles of natural justice, judicial policy’.

The reasoning is the court’s analysis and justification for deciding the case the way it did. In a standard law system like India, cases play an essential role in legal reasoning and analysis.

7. Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta

A decision of the court has two aspects:

i. What the case decides between the parties? and
ii. What principle it lays down?

It is not everything said by a judge when giving judgment that constitutes a precedent. Law quality relates to the principle behind a decision. The focus on which the case was determined is the only aspect of a judge’s ruling that serves as an authority for other judges. That which binds is called its ratio decidendi, i.e., the rule of law.

During the judgment, a judge must let various observations not precisely relevant to the issue before him. These observations are obiter dicta. They are without binding authority but are nonetheless important.

A statement made by a judge during a ruling that might not be entirely pertinent to the matter at hand is known as an obiter dictum.

Ratio decidendi is the rule acted upon by the court and becomes a precedent, whereas an obiter dictum suggests the trend of the courts’ thinking but not the rule of law.

Ratio and dicta tend to shade into each other. The rations have law quality and are binding on lower courts; the dicta, too, have law quality but are not binding at all.

Though rations of a higher court are binding on lower courts, the rations of lower court decisions have only persuasive force in higher courts like that of a dictum. Some dicta are so authoritative that the decision between ratio and dictum is reduced to a vanishing point. Dicta, which have no force, are propositions stated by way of illustration or on hypothetical facts.

Case analysis is a specific feature of legal research. One of the important sources of law, especially in common law countries, is judicial precedents. The study of decided case laws is integral to legal research.

Read Next:
1. What Is Case Law Research and Its Advantages and Disadvantages?
2. What Are Case Comments and Their Significance in Legal Analysis?
3. What Do You Mean by Citation of Cases?
4. What Is Factual Proposition and Its Importance?

Dinesh Verma
WritingLaw » Law Articles » Importance of Case Analysis and Understanding of Cases in Legal Studies Law Study Material
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