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Topic 4. UNDERSTANDING CASE LAW Mr. Mahyuddin Daud Department of Laws, CFSIIUM. WHAT ARE LAW REPORTS?. Reports of cases decided by the courts which set out the facts of the case and the reasons given for the decision of the court

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topic 4

Topic 4



Department of Laws, CFSIIUM

what are law reports
  • Reports of cases decided by the courts which set out the facts of the case and the reasons given for the decision of the court
  • very important tool in common law system as they provide a record of judicial decisions and reasoning
  • Law reports are not written by judges, but by law reporters who are qualified lawyers
  • Law reports are an entirely different form of presentation of information. They are designed for and written by experienced lawyers. It is entirely reasonable that you find reading law reports a challenge.
why read cases
  • First, Lawyers read cases to find out the law.
    • English law is described and developed in part through the medium of cases.
  • Second, reading cases is important to learn about judicial reasoning, or ratio decidendi.
    • It is important for lawyers to be able to appreciate how decisions were derived at.
  • Thirdly, reading cases develops a critical understanding of the law.
    • Pay particular attention to the judge’s reasoning. How the judge develops his line of arguments. How does he use the evidence and the authorities before the court. Do you agree with his approach?
standard features of case report
  • The name of the case
    • The case is named by the persons bringing the case to court.
    • For civil case, usually the plaintiff / claimant / appellant brings the matter to court
    • Defendants / respondents are parties whom being sued to court by the plaintiff
    • Plaintiff v. Defendant
    • Appellant v. Respondent
    • ‘v.’ means versus, or against.
    • Criminal cases is initiated by the Crown Prosecution Service, hence case name will bear the abbreviation ‘R’
    • R. v. Elliot.
    • Malaysian criminal cases, the officer instituting the suit is Deputy Public Prosecutor i.e. DPP

Citation of the case

[2002] 1 MLJ 20







The court in which the case was heard

    • i.e. high court, court of appeal, federal court, house of lords
  • The names of judges presiding the case
    • Take note on the judges deciding the case and how they approach their ratio
    • Senior judges would make decisions on more difficult and controversial areas
  • Hearing date(s)
  • The headnotes
    • This provides the summary of the case. It sets out the material facts, indicate the key legal questions to be considered by the court and summarises the court’s decision

List of cases referred to

    • Includes cases referred to by judges and lawyers
    • See abbreviations ‘refd’ – referred
    • ‘Foll’ – followed
    • ‘ovrd’ = overruled
    • Reversed = the court reversed the decision of lower court
    • Affirmed = the court is in agreement with decision of lower court
    • Distinguished = the court has discussed a particular case, and decided that there is sufficient difference between that case and present case.
  • Details of the appeal (if appeal case)
    • It provides for legal history of the case, setting out previous hearings and previous findings of the previous courts

The names of counsels appearing in the case

  • The judgments
    • The most important part of the case. Each judge is entitled to give his opinion, whether concur (agree) or dissent. No exact format for writing judgments. But usually will start with briefing the facts, legal issues, legal principles and application
why precendent is important
  • For most people, when they begin to read law, what is important perhaps would be who wins the case.
  • Actually the most important aspects of a case are the legal reasoning, and how far the decision of the court provides for future precedents
  • Creation and development of judicial precedents lies at the heart of common law system

A precedent is a statement of law made by a court in the course of its judgment which binds other courts which are of equal or lesser importance than the court making the precedent

  • Precedents provide a degree of legal certainty in a system of law generated by cases. How would case law impact their disputes.
  • Doctrine of precedent in common law is where a court is bound to follow the ratio decidendi decided by superior court

If the court is of similar position, I.e. between High court and high court, then ratio is only persuasive, not binding.

  • For ratio to be binding, it has to be decided by higher courts
  • Courts decisions of other countries may only be persuasive and not binding upon national courts.
consider these items as you read
Consider these items as you read…
  • Material facts
    • What the layperson thinks is an important fact may be completely irrelevant to the lawyer. A material fact is one where, if changed, would affect the outcome of a case. Material facts are important in determining which principles constitute the ratio decidendi
  • Legal issues
    • The question that requires court’s assistance to answer
  • Legal principles
    • The legislations in force, applied by the judge in the case which may lead to judgment
    • Also include judicial precedents of superior courts
  • Counsels arguments
    • Plaintiff and defendants have their sides of arguments, which are based on legal grounds
  • Judgments
    • Decision made after consideration of material facts, issue, law and counsel’s arguments.