Understanding & Making A Case Note
Whenever an amateur law student hears the term, ‘case note’ or ‘brief note’, the first assumption is to prepare a summary of the case. I would definitely know that, because I had that impression. It was only in time that I learnt that it was not the case. A Case Note is a very essential part of our profession. This is something we get to learn pretty late in our careers if we are not that fortunate.
Let me start off by introducing what it is and what purpose does it serve. The name certainly suggests for it to be a summary of the case at hand. But, what we forget is that it also includes many other things like our pleadings in the matter, what issues we are going to fight upon in a Court, etc.
Common factors included are…
- Brief facts…History of the case & Issues.
- Grounds, Prayer.
- Type of court, Judge(s) & Judgement.
and should also cover the major aspects of the judgment, including:
- The major arguments presented by counsel
It’s not a standard format. One may include some factors which the other one doesn’t. So, different people may have different manners of preparing one.
Following is a rough format which I have come to use with my experience.
- Brief Facts of the Case
This section contains all the facts of the case in a very concise manner. Focus on the facts that you need to know in order to understand the case. If you’re dealing with an appeal case, summarise the procedural history. Very briefly explain what happened in the court(s) below, i.e. the claim that was made and what the court decided.
There are two ways of doing it. You can either put them in a numbered list or you can go by building a list of dates. One thing which is common here is that all the facts have to be put in a chronological manner. This helps the reader in relating with the manner in which the events took place. That in turn builds a flow of arguments in the Court.
Another thing to keep in mind while building it, is the reliability. The other party will definitely want to present facts in a manner which suits them. They may try and misrepresent or quote the wrong facts. In this case you rely on the annexures to establish one.
Remember, in a District or Session Court, or other subordinate Courts, the case is at a root stage. Facts can be disputed over there. But once the lower courts give out a judgement, you have a reliable fact sheet.
Heavy reliance must be placed in a judgement for facts of the case. Whenever, preparing facts, latest judgement of the highest court which has decided the matter annexed therein for a reliable fact sheet.
Also, don’t forget to include any contradictory facts or evidence that arose in the judgment.
Set out the issues that were discussed in the case.
Remember that there is a difference between questions of law and questions of fact. Questions of law address how the law can be applied to the facts of the case (e.g. whether hitting someone amounts to battery), while questions of fact address what actually happened (e.g. whether there is evidence to show that the defendant did actually hit the victim).
You’re likely to be interested in questions of law for the purpose of this section, but there may be cases where factual issues may also arise.
This highlights what you are actually fighting for/against.
If the Case Note is being prepared from the side of the Respondents, it must contain the relief that the Petitioner/s have prayed for.
- Grounds of the Petitioner
This is prepared in a Case Note from the side of the Respondents. Every Petition is supported by a lot of grounds of appeal. In this section, you cut through the waste and find out the useful part so that you know what actually is their play and the aspects that you have to attack in that case. It is a job which requires a sharp eye. From experience, it is a very boring job but it pays off. You get to know what you are up against.
- Arguments of the Petitioner/Appellant
If you are the Petitioner, then based on the grounds in your petition, you prepare your Arguments in the matter. It seems like a complicated job, to prepare arguments. But, arguments are nothing but an advancement of your grounds in a detailed manner. Here you examine the Law which is in support of your claims and highlight the part which supports your case. You can try and negate the contravention to your claims as well. But what you are actually trying to achieve is establishing a superiority of your Grounds.
- Arguments of the Respondent
This is very similar to the previous heading. This deals with advancing your counter claims. You prepare your arguments in a manner in which you show why the grounds of the Petitioner should not be accepted. Again, you highlight the law on the matter and show why the case of the Petitioner does not stand.
Below are few points which you have to include in your note only in Criminal Cases.
Herein you state the charges levied on the accused party. The charges are usually used as stated in the FIR of the case. But, if the charge sheet of the matter is available, you can use that as a more reliable source. Also, look for an additional charge sheet or if the Sessions Court has modified the charges. The final judgement of the case is the best authority to ascertain the charges against the accused.
Herein you state details of all the accused persons in the matter. Mention the terms and the sections under which they have been convicted, if the accused have been convicted by the Trial Court. If the accused is out on Bail, mention it.
Herein you show the role of the accused as per the Prosecution story. In the event there were multiple accused persons, you explain here which person was involved in the commission of which act.
Now, the question arises, how do you do it?
You must be having your own way of preparing such notes. Stick to what his comfortable with you. I have just placed some points, which will help you be more efficient while making such notes.
Annotating cases during the first review of a case makes the briefing process easier. Without annotations, you will likely have difficulty locating the information you seek even in the short cases. Even a short case will likely take you at least fifteen to twenty-five minutes to read, while longer cases may take as much as thirty minutes to an hour to complete.
An annotation in the margin, however, will not only swiftly guide you to a pertinent section, but will also refresh the thoughts that you had while reading that section.
When you read a case for the first time, read for the story and for a basic understanding of the dispute, the issues, and the decision. As you hit these elements, make a mark in the margins. Your markings can be as simple as “facts”. When you spot an issue, you may simply mark “issue” or instead provide a synopsis in your own words.
Finally, when you spot a particularly important part of the text, underline.
Now you have a basic understanding of the case, and with annotations in the margin, the second read-through of the case will be much easier. Direct your reading to the important parts. This time you mark those points which you missed in your first read & strike out those which you had marked but are not much important. Continue rereading the case until you have identified all the relevant information that you need to make your brief.
Pencil or pen ? — Which is better to use when annotating? My recommendation is a mechanical pencil. Mechanical pencils make finer markings than regular pencils, and also than ballpoint pens. You also have the freedom to make mistakes. So, with a pencil, however, you have the ability to erase and rewrite.
Why highlight? Like annotating, highlighting may seem unimportant if you create thorough, well-constructed briefs, but highlighting directly helps you to brief. It makes cases, especially the more complicated ones, easy to review and extract information.
Unlike annotating, highlighting provides an effective way to colour code, which makes referring to the case even easier. If you prefer a visual approach to learning, you may find highlighting to be a very effective tool.
Try to choose a colour scheme early on in the semester and stick with it. Highlighters make text stand out, but only when used appropriately. The use of many colours enables you to highlight more text without reducing the highlighter’s effectiveness. Three to four colours provides decent colour variation without the cumbersomeness of handling too many markers.
Be careful not to highlight everything, thus ruining your highlighters’ effectiveness at the same time.
After all this work, list out all your points chronologically with specific details like dates, page no.s, etc. on a sheet of paper.
Preparing the document is just half the job. The main job starts after this.
Briefing the Senior
Once you have prepared and fine tuned the brief, you reach the desk to brief the senior for the case. This is a very crucial interaction as you must give the senior a premise for them to build upon.
The senior relies upon your briefing to push the arguments. You must ensure that no important details are left out. You need to know the file inside out. Another important point is that you need to know the page numbers of every fact that you are quoting to them. It’s a better practice to put in the page numbers next to each point in the brief sheet itself. This way, as the senior keeps progressing through the sheet, he will know which page to open in the file.
Knowing the page numbering is important as when you are in Court, the presiding Justice/s are not going to rely on your word. They are going to rely on what is written in the file, book, Act or a Judgement. Hence, you need to be ready with the numbering so that you can tell the Bench where to look for the information that you are quoting. Similarly, when you are in a Briefing, the senior is not going to waste the time to turn through the pages to look for a particular fact. He is going to look at you for the page numbers. Believe me, files get thrown across the table if you have not done the due diligence. You do not want to be in that embarrassing situation. The only escape to it, is practice.
So, now that we have covered the basics, you are ready to start practicing.