[Sansad TV] Perspective: How to write a Judgement

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Context

The Supreme Court of India has delivered a judgement on how to write a judgement!  A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna made this crucial observation while dealing with a judgment of the Himachal Pradesh High Court which was found to be “incomprehensible“.

  • Judgment writing is a critical instrument in fostering the rule of law and in curbing rule by the law.
  • That was the assertion made by the Supreme Court recently while delivering a judgment on how to write a judgment.

How can judges ensure lucidity in writing judgments? How can judgments be more structured? These are aspects on which the apex court has given directions.

Writing a Judgement

  • A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna noted that the purpose of judicial writing is:
  • Not to confuse or confound the reader behind the veneer of complex language
  • Judgments speak to the present and to the future in settling crucial issues of law, besides providing a platform for societal dialogue.
  • Setting down guidelines for judicial writing, the two-judge bench underlined that confidence in the judicial process is predicated on the trust that its written word generates.
  • If the meaning of the written word is lost in language, the ability of the judge to retain the trust of the reader is severely eroded.

Guidelines for making a judgment

[A] A judgment is a manifestation of reason

  • A judgment culminates in a conclusion. But its content represents the basis for the conclusion.
  • A judgment is hence a manifestation of reason.
  • The reasons provide the basis of the view which the decision maker has espoused, of the balances which have been drawn.
  • That is why reasons are crucial to the legitimacy of a judge’s work.
  • They provide an insight into judicial analysis, explaining to the reader why what is written has been written. The reasons, as much as the final conclusion, are open to scrutiny.
  • The validity of the decision is tested by the underlying content and reasons.

[B] A judgment speaks to the present and to the future

  • Judicial outcomes taken singularly or in combination have an impact upon human lives.
  • Hence, a judgment is amenable to wider critique and scrutiny, going beyond the immediate contest in a courtroom.
  • Citizens, researchers and journalists continuously evaluate the work of courts as public institutions committed to governance under law.
  • Judgment writing is hence a critical instrument in fostering the rule of law and in curbing rule by the law.

[C] Judgment writing is a layered exercise

  • Judgment writing is a layered exercise. In one layer, a judgment addresses the concerns and arguments of parties to a forensic contest.
  • In another layer, a judgment addresses stakeholders beyond the conflict.
  • It speaks to those in society who are impacted by the discourse.
  • In the layered formulation of analysis, a judgment speaks to the present and to the future.
  • Whether or not the writer of a judgment envisions it, the written product remains for the future, representing another incremental step in societal dialogue.

[D] Brevity is an unwitting victim of an overburdened judiciary

  • Brevity means concise and exact use of words in writing a judgment.
  • Many judgments do decide complex questions of law and of fact.
  • Hence Brevity is an unwitting victim of an overburdened judiciary.
  • It is also becoming a victim of the cut-copy-paste convenience afforded by software developers.

Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion: IRAC Method of Judgment Writing

In terms of structuring judgments, it would be beneficial for courts to structure them in a manner such that the “Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion” are easily identifiable.

  1. Issue: It refers to the question of law that the court is deciding. A court may be dealing with multiple issues in the same judgment. Identifying these issues clearly helps structure the judgment and provides clarity for the reader on the specific issue of law being decided in a particular segment of a judgment.
  2. Rule: It refers to the portion of the judgment which distils the submissions of counsel on the applicable law and doctrine for the issue identified.
  3. Application: This rule is applied to the facts of the case in which the issue has arisen. The analysis recording the reasoning of a court forms the “Application‟ section.
  4. Conclusion: Finally, it is always useful for a court to summarize and lay out the “Conclusion‟ on the basis of its determination of the application of the rule to the issue along with the decision vis-à-vis the specific facts. This allows stakeholders, especially members of the bar as well as judges relying upon the case in the future, to concisely understand the holding of the case.

Significance of lucid judgments

  • Judgments of the High Courts and the Supreme Court serve as precedents to guide future benches.
  • A judgment must make sense to those whose lives and affairs are affected by the outcome of the case.
  • While a judgment is read by those as well who have training in the law, they do not represent the entire universe of discourse.
  • If the meaning of the written word is lost in language, the ability of the adjudicator to retain the trust of the reader is severely eroded.

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