Supreme Court issues guidelines on writing simple and clear judgments

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Observing that the purpose of a judgment is not to “confuse or confuse readers”, the Supreme Court urged courts and tribunals to “provide easy to understand analysis of questions of law and fact” in their verdicts.

A bench comprising Judges DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna made the crucial observation in the face of a Himachal Pradesh High Court judgment that was deemed “incomprehensible”.

“Judgments are primarily for those whose cases are decided by judges. Judgments of the High Courts and the Supreme Court also serve as precedents to guide future judges. A judgment must have meaning for those whose lives and cases are affected by the outcome of the If a judgment is also read by those with legal training, they do not represent the whole universe of discourse Confidence in the judicial process relies on the confidence generated by its writing. If the meaning of the written word is lost in the language, the referee’s ability to retain the reader’s trust is severely eroded.

The Court also made the following crucial observations

The work of a judge cannot be reduced to a statistic on the fate of a case.

In the midst of an overloaded judicial docket, a view is sometimes expressed that the parties are concerned with the outcome and nothing else. This view assumes that the parties appreciate the result and not the reasoning that forms the basis. This view underestimates the importance of the judicial function and the reasons that are essential to it. The work of a judge cannot be reduced to a statistic on the fate of a case. Each judgment is a progressive step towards consolidation and change. By adhering to precedent, the judgment reflects a commitment to protect legal principle. This gives certainty to the law. Each judgment is thus a brick in the consolidation of the fundamental precepts on which a legal order is based. But in incremental steps, a judgment addresses the need to evolve and transform by addressing the critical issues facing human existence. The courts are equally engaged in the slow but not so silent process of bringing about social transformation. Their degree of success or weakness in this quest is gauged both by the quality of the reasons and by the way the judicial process is structured.

A judgment is a manifestation of reason

A judgment leads to a conclusion. But its content represents the basis of the conclusion. A judgment is therefore a manifestation of reason. The reasons provide the basis for the opinion that the decision maker has espoused, of the balance sheets that have been drawn. This is why motives are crucial to the legitimacy of a judge’s work. They provide insight into forensic analysis, explaining to the reader why what is written was written. The reasons, as much as the final conclusion, are subject to scrutiny. A judgment is written primarily for the parties in a forensic contest. The review is first and foremost carried out by the person for whom the decision is intended – the parties in conflict in court. At a secondary level, the grounds provide the basis for challenging a judicial decision before a higher court. The validity of the decision is tested by the content and the underlying motives. But there is more. Equally significant is the fact that a judgment speaks to the present and the future. Judicial decisions taken individually or in combination have an impact on human lives. Therefore, a judgment lends itself to broader criticism and scrutiny, going beyond immediate challenge in a courtroom. Citizens, researchers and journalists continuously assess the work of the courts as public institutions committed to lawful governance. Judgment writing is therefore an essential instrument for fostering the rule of law and curbing rule by law.

Judgment writing is a layered exercise

Judgment writing is a layered exercise. In one layer, a judgment addresses the concerns and arguments of the parties to a forensic contest. At another level, a judgment speaks to stakeholders beyond the conflict. It is aimed at members of society who are affected by the discourse. In the layered formulation of the analysis, a judgment speaks to the present and the future. Whether the author of a judgment considers it or not, the written product remains for the future, representing an additional stage in the societal dialogue. If a judgment falls short, it can be criticized and criticized. Behind the strata of reason hides the arbiter’s vision of the values ​​that a just society must embody and defend. In a constitutional framework, these values ​​must be entrenched in the Constitution. The reasons provided by a judge provide a window – a glimpse – into the work of the court by espousing these values ​​as an integral part of judicial function.

Brevity is an unwitting victim of an overburdened justice system

Many judgments resolve complex issues of law and fact. Brevity is an unwitting victim of an overburdened legal system. It also falls victim to cut-copy-paste convenience offered by software developers. This Court has provided headings and subheadings to help the reader provide a structured sequence. Introduced and popularized in judgment writing by Lord Denning, this development has been replicated in all jurisdictions.

It is also useful for all judgments to have paragraph numbers as this facilitates reference and improves structure, improving the readability and accessibility of judgments. A table of contents in a longer version facilitates access to the reader.

IRAC Judgment Writing Method

  1. In terms of structuring judgments, courts would benefit from structuring them so that the “issue, rule, application and conclusion” are easily identifiable. The well-known “IRAC” method generally followed to analyze cases and structure observations can also benefit judgments when supplemented by CA 5305/2022 16 noting the facts and conclusions.
  2. The “problem” refers to the question of law on which the court is deciding. A court may deal with several issues in the same judgment. Clearly identifying these issues helps structure the judgment and provides clarity to the reader on the specific legal issue being decided. decided in a particular part of a judgment.
  3. The “Rule” refers to the part of the judgment which summarizes the lawyers’ submissions on the law and doctrine applicable to the issue identified.
  4. This rule applies to the facts of the case in which the issue arises. The analysis recording the reasoning of a tribunal constitutes the “Application” section.
  5. Finally, it is always useful for a court to summarize and present the “finding” based on its determination of the application of the rule to the issue as well as the decision vis-à-vis the specific facts. This allows stakeholders, especially members of the bar as well as judges relying on the case in the future, to concisely understand the conduct of the case.

Accessibility

With regard to accessibility, the importance of making judgments accessible to people from all walks of life, especially people with disabilities, should be emphasised. All judicial institutions must ensure that the judgments and orders they publish do not bear misplaced watermarks as they end up making the documents inaccessible to people with visual impairments who use screen readers to access them. In the same vein, courts and tribunals must also ensure that the downloaded version of judgments and orders are accessible and signed using digital signatures. They should not be scanned versions of printed copies. The practice of printing and scanning documents is a futile and time-consuming process that serves no purpose. The practice should be eradicated from the litigation process as it tends to render the documents as well as the process inaccessible to a range of citizens

Judges may have their own style of judging writing, but must ensure lucidity in writing

Although we have established some general guidelines, individual judges may indeed have different ways of writing judgments and still have variations in their styles of expression. The expression of a judge is an unfolding of the folds of the mind. However, while the recesses of the mind may be impenetrable, the reasoning in judgment cannot. Although judges may have their own style of judging writing, they must ensure lucidity in writing across those styles.

Case details

State Bank of India vs Ajay Kumar Sood | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 706 | CA 5305 from 2022 | August 16, 2022 | Judges DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna

Click here to read/download the judgment

Summaries

Judgments – General guidelines on writing judgments – Although judges may have their own style of writing judgments, they must ensure lucidity in writing those styles – Inconsistent judgments have a serious impact on the dignity of our institutions – Method of Writing “IRAC” Judgments – The judge must write to provide an easy-to-understand analysis of the issues of law and fact that arise for decision (paragraphs 10-28).

Judgments – Accessibility – Judgments should have paragraph numbers and a table of contents in a longer version – Judgments should be accessible to people from all walks of life, including people with disabilities – They should not have watermarks misplaced and must be signed using digital signatures – They must not be scanned versions of printed copies. The practice of printing and scanning documents is a futile and time-consuming process that serves no purpose. The practice should be eradicated from the judicial process as it tends to render the documents as well as the process inaccessible to a range of citizens. (Paragraphs 20-21)

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