Knowing how to read a judgment is an art and it requires skill. It is imperative to understand how to appreciate a legal text to have a better understanding of the body. In the Legal profession, it is a must that a person instils within himself the habit of reading as the judgments are quite lengthy. It is always advisable to read the judgment in full and not rely on headnotes alone.
In order to understand how to read a judgment, it becomes important to understand the elements of a judgment. The elements of the judgment include name, citation, facts of the case, issues that are being dealt with in the judgment, argument proposed, application of law and the final verdict. Moreover, the background of the Judge is also a crucial factor in having a better understanding of the judgment. Knowing the background of the Judges gives the reader clarity about the perspectives of the judges on the panel. We will now discuss in detail the elements of the judgment.
While reading a case, citation helps to understand which authority is addressing the case in hand such as the Supreme Court, Appellant Court, Tribunal, and also the year in which the judgment is delivered. The name refers to the Title of the case and depicts the parties involved in the case. For instance, in Keshvanandabharti v. Union of India, the two parties involved are Keshvananda Bharti, the plaintiff, and the Union of India, the defendant. Thus, the name of the case reflects upon the parties in question.
The facts are elements of a story that narrates the series of events that took place and also incorporates legal facts that are relevant to the case. In addition to this, it also provides the reader with the procedural history to comprehend it better.
The second element that is the issue refers to the point of dispute and has two aspects: the point of law in dispute and the facts in a dispute relating to the law in dispute.
The next element which is by far the most crucial element is to analyze a judgment and understand the different perspective and the integration of law is the summary of arguments. The arguments are presented by both the parties and it helps the reader to analyze the evolution of law. The applicability of the current law can be better appreciated through arguments presented and the same allows the reader to further strengthen their arguments. This is possible as the reader might agree to certain arguments and might not agree to the other argument presented.
The last element is the final verdict or the judgment given by the judges. There are two types of Judgments: Judgments that have to just follow the law as per the facts of the case and the second are the Judgments that need to be interpreted and which have precedential value. While reading the judgment it becomes important to point out whether the appeal has been allowed or rejected and to understand the merits of the case. In a judgment, there might be a majority opinion and a concurring opinion, and a dissenting opinion. The concurring opinion refers to the opinion of the judges that have different reasoning than the majority opinion but in totality agree with what the majority opinion held. The dissenting opinion refers to the opinion of the judges who disagree with the majority opinion.
There might be instances where it would be difficult to understand the judgment as a whole and to make it less time consuming, it is always advisable to first figure out the key elements of the judgment. This gives clarity before going into the depth of the judgment. Additionally, note making is an important tool for better understanding the text and easy reference at a later stage. In the initial days, it might be difficult to understand the elements of the case therefore it is advisable to make a column and start penning down the different arguments presented by the counsels. This ensures that by the end of a judgment which might go up to 50 pages, there is the clarity with respect to the structure of the case. Re-reading pointers are always easier than reading the whole judgment and by identifying the elements of the case it becomes very easy to comprehend the judgment. Furthermore, it is advisable to focus on the beginning of the paragraphs that points out the facts and the issues of the case. Consequently, read the last paragraph to understand what was held by the judge. This gives a quick overview of the Judgment and helps in reading the judgment more efficiently.
Be mindful and do not rely on headnotes as they do not provide accurate information and can be misleading. Always read the judgment in full and identify the elements of the judgment to analyze the case comprehensively.
Kerr, Orin (2005) How to Read a Judicial Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students, available at
Rao, S. (2020). Reading a Judgment is an Art. Retrieved 17 November 2020, from https://taxguru.in/corporate-law/reading-judgment-art.html
Sivakumar, S. (2016). JUDGMENT OR JUDICIAL OPINION: HOW TO READ AND ANALYSE. Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 58(3), 273-312. doi:10.2307/45163393
 Rao, S. (2020). Reading a Judgment is Art. Retrieved 17 November 2020, from https://taxguru.in/corporate-law/reading-judgment-art.html