Case Summaries and their place in Law School

Introduction-

Case Summaries are an important part of Law School. Since Zambia clings and follows to the British Common Law system of following laid-down precedents of cases, it is very important to understand the holding and reasoning of judges in decided cases. Case law holds a very special place in my heart because I believe it is the epicenter of legal reasoning and also the machinery used for the establishment of legal principles. For example, what would the world be without Lord Atkin establishing the ‘Neighbor Principle’ in Donoghue v Stevenson? Where would we be without Lord Denning’s wise words on Promissory Estoppel in Central London Property Trust v High Trees House? More recently and coming closer to home, where would the excitement of legal commentators be without the holding of Kapesh v The People when the Supreme Court of Zambia decided to break its own precedent and laid down principles in which a belief in the existence of witchcraft was to be an extenuating circumstance to Murder? The list goes on and on.

What is Vigilante Scholar’s place?

At the tail-end of every summary that is churned out from Vigilante Scholar, the following precautionary words are uttered: ‘ Vigilante Scholar is not a body licensed with dispensing legal advice in the capacity of a legally mandated government authority…’ (the rest is history). These words are not only a safeguard against potential legal suits in copyright infringement, they are a snapshot of the ethos that has shaped the website from its inception i.e. to Read & Inspire. I always a joke with most of my friends that I might as well have had an L-R syndrome in coming up with that motto… It could have been Lead & Inspire. In whatever circumstance, be it Lead & Inspire or Read & Inspire, the following point is communicated: inspiration should stem from knowledge that is acquired from different sources to encourage discussion about issues that not only affect the Law in Zambia but also the World at large.  

As you can see at this point, the goal of Vigilante Scholar is not necessarily to play the role of teacher (actually far from it) but rather the goal is to inspire people to apply the knowledge that they already possess to bring about change. Quite idealistic, I know…

So coming to case summaries, they are NOT intended to substitute the actual full reading of a particular case. If anything, they are meant to remind the person who intends to use them of the essential Facts, Legal Issue(s) and the Holding of the Court. For a lack of better terms, they are statements of opinion on what a particular case was about, not necessarily a legal report. Now, to begin with, why summarize a case and publish it online? Well, partly the reason is because we can. Cases shouldn’t die in Textbooks then later on resurrected in Exams by a Brain that is too stressed to go beyond rote memorization. They are more deserving than that! The ingenuity of Judges cannot be relegated to only paper and pen when the effect of those Judgments transcend not only time (because some judgments are really old e.g. Donoghue v Stevenson) but also generations to come.

Tips before reading V.S. Case Summaries

Made with courtesy of https://www.canva.com

Tip #1: Read the Full Case

I know this feels counterintuitive especially when you are pressed for time, however, I believe it is necessary. Like I said, the ingenuity of Judges cannot be relegated to only paper and pen. The full case shows you the depth of reasoning which no Case Summary could ever unravel no matter how competent the skill of the Summarizer. Besides, the full case brings in the arguments of Counsels. Arguments which were well-thought out and prepared for that case in question. These arguments teach a thing or two about certain legal principles although the Judge may reject them as inapplicable in a particular case. Beyond that there is also the Obiter Dicta (words made in passing)of Judges which may be used as Ratio Decidendi (Reasoning of the Court)in other cases. Always remember that if the person who summarized the case had the tenacity to read all of it, then you too can achieve a similar outcome.

Tip # 2: Research the Legal Principles in the Summary

Jesus once said, “Be therefore perfect, just as your heavenly Father in Heaven is perfect”. It is a goal that I have (and perhaps most people) strived to achieve. However, with every step into the right direction, there always seems to be one universal obstacle: Humanity…

You could have the Ambition of Alexander the Great, the Fortitude and Skill of Achilles and the Wisdom of Socrates but one thing you cannot have is the ability to separate imperfection from Humanity.

Mistakes in making Case Summaries are bound to be made. As long as the creator of the summary is a Human Being, that is definitely possible. Not only can grammatical errors be made (which I make a lot), but also perhaps errors in understanding Legal Principles. It is best to assume that the only way to eliminate that threat is to verify the information through research and discussion.

Research is an art on its own but all in all the chief take away from this tip is that be open-minded and be careful on the information you take to be true.

Tip #3: Read, Read and Read some more…

Last but definitely not the least, READ! There’s simply no substitute for reading. Period! As far as memory retention goes. The best time to read is in the morning or the hours before you sleep.

“While we sleep, the part of the brain that stores recent information (the hippocampus) ‘tells’ the part of the brain responsible for deeper levels of information (the cortex) what has happened that day. Then, the cortex processes that day’s experiences and attempts to make sense of everything, deepening understanding and making links between recent experience and deeper, stored experience. In other words, any information from the day that the cortex thinks is worth remembering gets assimilated into the brain overnight.”

Law Express Exam Success, Emily Finch . Page 63-64

Apart from that, online University Repositories are invaluable in understanding legal principles. This is so because they are explained in light of difficulties that are haunting the legal world right now. My personal favorite is the University of Zambia online repository. You can find it here.

In conclusion, read cases with guided skepticism. In fact, critically analyze Vigilante Scholar cases, form your own opinion and if it happens to better, feel free to air out your opinion.

2 thoughts on “Case Summaries and their place in Law School

  1. My comment is not necessarily on any particular case summary that you have presented but to commend you for the task you have embarked upon.

    I am also a Law student (although I am in my late 50’s). I wish I could partner with you and also write some selected case summaries. This would go a long way to help students of Law in our local universities. I agree with you completely when you say that reading case summaries should not be a substitute to reading the actual judgements. Well written judgements are a pleasure and an education to read.

    Like

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