The Art of Judgment Reading

Today’s post is written by Shri Vishal Vyas Vishal who is a Judge, Musician, Educator and a poet. He has a keen interest in academics and is extremely passionate about teaching, motivating & mentoring young law students and Judicial Services aspirants. You can reach out to him via his instagram handle – @vishal.vyas

His article – “The art of judgment reading” has also been published in Asgar Khan advocate law journal , Volume 2, Issue 1, January 2021

There are many sources from which we derive what we know to be as “law”. We have Codified laws, customs, judgments. Judgments are an important source of law. For law students, young lawyers, professors, judges, aspiring or otherwise, reading judgments is extremely important. It is a practice that should become engrained in a person from the moment he steps into the world of law. It not only gives you a result. It not only tells you that a particular section has to be interpreted in a certain way. It also trains your mind in How to pick relevant from the irrelevant ? How to decide issues ? How to frame charges ? How to appreciate evidences ? It tells about the thought process of a Judge, the art of advocacy. Also, Reading judgments helps you with improving your vocabulary.

Having said that, it can be time-consuming to read judgments from beginning to end, particularly as they can be dozens of pages long. Some of these judgments which have come in recent times are easily running beyond 100 pages.I think it’s fair to say that most of us are guilty of not reading the complete judgement because of the obvious reason that they are voluminous!So, in this post, I’ll express some thoughts on how to read a judgment effectively ? What are the different parts of it ? What is Obiter dicta ? What is ratio decidendi ?

A judgment broadly comprises the name of the Court, followed by the names of the parties, citation, the facts of the case, the issues of law and fact, the findings of the Court, the arguments of the counsels of both the parties and finally the reasoning and the judgment. The judgment also has the names of the judges in the Bench.
A typical judgment will be divided into different sections. First paragraph tells you about the crux of the matter in it. If it is an appeal, it will tell you what is the order against which the appeal has been filed. To begin with, the first part of the Judgment would be about Facts of the case or the background of a case. The most basic premise to start reading any judgment is the facts of the case. It gives a clear context about the legal cases and provides a practical situation for the application of laws. Reading the facts and noting down the key points in one or two lines is a good practice. This is of great help when we read the subsequent parts of the judgment where these facts are referred to while explaining the rationale.

Moving on, then you would see the issues which have been framed or the question of law that has to be decided. This is the dicey part of a judgment as the application of the legal principles, and the arguments of the parties are based on the issues of law and facts. To read the judgment effectively, it is of utmost importance that the issues are appropriately understood in the context of the facts of the case.

Then, the next part is about the submissions of the counsels. Typically, it starts with the Petitioner’s counsel’s submission followed by the respondent’s counsels submission. The arguments of both the counsels are on the questions of law and fact, where they assist the court in justice dispensation. Argument formation is an art, and this portion of the judgments is instrumental, especially to the young professionals who have embarked on the journey of law. It teaches you the “Art of Advocacy” to a great extent!

Now, let’s move to the next and the last portion of a Judgment which consists orbiter dicta & ratio decidendi. Both of them are important component of a judgment. The art of reading a judgment lies in that to be able to differentiate between the two – observations & findings!

Obiter dicta are remarks or observations made by a judge although included in the body of the court’s opinion, do not form a necessary part of the court’s decision. On the other hand, ratio decidendi it the actual finding of the court. The ratio decidendi is probably the most captivating part of the judgment where the court summarises the observation and applies the principles in the legal cases. It contains the ethos of the entire judgment and is the interpretation of the law. The proper reading and understanding of the ratio decidendi is the core of case law analysis. More often than not, the ratio also entails other judgments cited into it on which the court has relied upon to come to a particular conclusion. This portion needs to be carefully read and analysed so as to understand the actual findings of the Court.

Concluding by wishing all the readers “Happy Judgment reading!” 🙂

2 replies

  1. Ahh this reminds me how fun reading judgments can be. But now its just become a bit of a rut – furiously go to all legal search engines available to look up a given research proposition, read up some 20 cases within two hours, cursorily glance at submissions, zero in on the ratio, draft a research note, rinse, repeat. Have to remind myself that judgments can be fascinating things by themselves!


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