Studying Legal System

Legal Systems is the study of law and the legal process. It includes learning about the history of law, the institutions and people involved in the legal process, and how law is applied in practice.

The Object of Law Study

What the term “law” means? In one sense, the “law” is a large body of rules and regulations, based mainly on general principles of justice, fair play and convenience, which have been worked out by governmental bodies to regulate human activities and define what is and what is not permissible conduct in various situations. Such rules and regulations are found in Constitution, statutes, precedents, etc.

The term “law”, however, is also used in a much broader sense to denote the whole process by which organized society, through government bodies and personnel (legislatures, courts, law enforcement agencies, etc.) attempts to apply these rules and regulations and thereby establish and maintain peaceful and orderly relations between the people. For example, when there is evidence that some person has killed another, or has robbed, not only we say that he has “broken the law” but we expect that the appropriate agencies of government will in accordance with the rules of law, apprehend and bring him before the court, conduct a fair trial and if he is guilty, prescribe and carry out appropriate corrective or punitive measures.

Law schools are engaged primarily in training future lawyers, judges and others who will operate this legal system. Thus the study of law necessarily involves not only a study of legal rules but also a study of the whole legal system through which society attempts to maintain “law and order”.

In a law school, a law student is learning rules of law and studying the court decisions and legal proceedings in which they are applied, to enable him or her to solve legal problems as they are solved by our legal system. He is not required to merely memorize what the courts and legislatures have said and done in the past, but to learn how the legal system works and how to solve future legal problems in accordance with the principles that have been established.

Also Read Major Legal Systems of the World

Also Read Our Legal System

Also Read Is the Supreme Court of India bound by its own decision?/Is the High Court bound by the decision of another High Court ?

Also Read Doctrine of Stare Decisis

Also Read Austinian concept of Law/Austin’s concept of Positive Law

Case Method

The “case-method” or “case system” is based on the idea that the best way to study law is to study the actual court decisions in various types of cases and to drive from them, by inductive reasoning, an understanding of the main fields in the law and the general rules and principles of law applicable in those fields.

Cases are the published reports of controversies which have come before the courts, including the court’s decisions and its reasons for the decisions. A case you read in your case book is normally an exact copy of what some judge has written in explanation of his court’s decision in a particular law suit brought to that court for decision.

The student’s work under this system consists mainly of reading and “briefing” the cases, attending classes and taking notes, and periodically reviewing the work in each course. The “case brief’ should be a short synopsis of the law case organised along these four parts: Facts (two or three line summary), Question (major issue), Decision (court’s holding – ‘yes’ or ‘no’), and, Reasons (a list form).

The study method for the students studying under the case method can be divided into five parts:

(i) study before class e.g. preparing a case brief,

(ii) class room note taking,

(iii) review and study after class,

(iv) preparing for the examination, and,

(v) writing the examination.les

The purpose of the whole process – studying, class room discussion, examinations, etc. is to give you a basic understanding of the law, its sources and rules and their limitations and the reasons for those rules. Thus the one basic purpose of the case method is to engage the student himself in the process of thinking through the meaning and implication of legal principles as set down in court cases. This is much more advantageous in comparison to the passive classroom teaching.

It is important to realise that there are a variety of view points from which a case or rule of law can be approached. It is not enough simply to ascertain “what is the law”. There are other relevant questions such as “what should be the law”. There are four approaches to a particular case or fact situation:

(i) Planning transacting approach – In a given situation, a lawyer may be called upon to advise a client about the best way to go about some business or personal activity e.g. drafting a contract or will.

(ii) Predicting approach – In a given situation, a client comes to a lawyer with a dispute and asks the lawyer whether he should sue in court. The lawyer may advise the client partly on the
basis of his prediction whether the client will win. To a certain degree this is stating to the client what the law “is”, since the lawyer knows that the court’s decision will be based on that

(iii) Advocacy approach – In a given situation, a client has decided to bring a law suit. Now it is the lawyer’s task to do the best job of advocacy which he can do for his client.

(iv) Judicial or legislative approach – In this, the lawyer (as a judge, legislator, member of a commission) is called upon to given his view as to what the law should be.

Each of these tasks or approaches requires skills a bit different from the other. It is important for the law student to develop his talents in each of these directions.

Reading Cases

The fundamental thing in reading cases is to know what to look for. Perhaps the best way to explain what to look for is to point out what you can normally expect to find in a case.

(1) Kind of controversy – The first thing you will usually find in a case is a brief statement of the kind of controversy involved e.g. a criminal prosecution, or a tort action, etc. This is usually
accompanied by an explanation of how the case got to this particular court-whether it started there, or if it is a matter on appeal.

(2) Facts – The next thing you will usually find is a statement of the facts of the controversy: who the parties were, what they did, To what happened to them, who brought the action and what he wanted. Sometimes the statement of facts is made on the basis of the court’s findings of fact; sometimes it is made by stating what the plaintiff and defendant alleged in their pleadings. The facts are often dispersed throughout the opinion.

(3) Question or Issue – Next comes a statement of the question or questions the court is called upon to decide the various “issues” which must be settled before a decision can be reached.

(4) Arguments – This is where logic comes into play. There are two main types of logical reasoning – inductive (formulation of On general principles from a consideration of specific problems) and deductive (application of general principles to some specific problem). In each case, the court decides by first concluding what the general rule or proposition of law is as to this type of issue, and then deducing the decision on that issue from the general rule.

(5) Decision – Finally, after the agreement on all the issues, the judge states the general conclusion, and winds up the opinion with a statement of the court’s decision, e.g. “judgment affirmed” judgment reversed” etc.

Now having in mind what you can expect to find in the case, you are in a position to read them intelligently. A systematic method of reading involves:

First, get a clear picture of the controversy involved. Get all the facts and issues straight. Consider the following: what kind of an action it is, who the parties were, who brought the action, what the defence was, what this court had to decide.

Then, look at the problem first from plaintiff’s point of view, them from the defendant’s. Ask yourself how you would decide it, what you think the decision ought to be. Compare this case with others on the same topic. What result do they indicate ought to be reached here, By doing this you will be in a better position to read the court’s arguments critically, and spot any errors in it.

Now read the arguments and the court’s conclusions. Consider the various rules and propositions advanced on each issue and the reasons given for adopting them. See whether the conclusions drawn follow logically from those rules. Then ask yourself whether you agree with the court, and if not, why not.

It is important to distinguish between the rules and propositions of law actually relied upon by the court in deciding the issues (these are called “holdings” or ratio decidendi, which become binding to future similar cases) and other legal propositions and discussion which are not relevant to the issues before the court (these are called “dicta”, which do not have any binding value).

Use of Law Library

The law library is a vital factor in the administration of justice, an institution of extraordinary social significance in a free society. A law library has to be well equipped with regard to two basic materials – statutory law and reports of decided cases. The term statutory law includes not only legislative enactments, but Constitutions, treaties, court rules, administrative rules and regulations, etc.

Professor Frederick Hicks remarks: “Skill in the use of law books…is a requisite of a successful legal carrer, along with ability to understand the intricate wording of a statute, to follow the reasoning of a judicial decision, or to build up a theory of a case by original thinking… What I refer to is skill in using law libraries i.e. books in the mass. A law library is not merely a collection of books. It is a collection of legal literature properly housed, and organized for service”.

A person who wishes to use a law library and wants to make best use of it must know how to use it. He should have a general idea of the types of books a law library usually contains. He should know where to look for the materials for research and also about the guides and aids which would facilitate locate the materials.

(1) Books Textbooks are the best source of understanding the basic principles on the subject. If one wants to find a book on a particular subject he should look into the classified sequence
in the catalogue card cabinet where all the cards of books on that particular subject will be found together. If one wants to locate a book by a particular author, he should go through the
alphabetical sequence of the authors and titles. In an effort to locate the books help may also be sought from the library staff.

(2) The Constitution – An official copy of the Constitution of India is published by the Controller of Publications, Government of India, Delhi. For latest amendments to the Constitution, one has to consult the Gazette of India.

(3) Legislative Material – The current legislative material, i.e., Bills, Acts, Rules, Notifications, Orders, etc. are published in the Gazette of India. The gazette contains:

Part I– Various notifications relating to resolutions, etc. issued by the Ministries of Government
of India, regarding appointment, promotion,etc. of Government officers.
Part II– Acts, ordinances, rules and regulations, etc.
Part III– Notifications issued by the Supreme Court, High Courts, Union Public Service Commission, Auditor General, etc.
Codes –official publications
India CodeIt contains all the Acts in force in India without commentaries.
Acts of Parliament –An annual publication containing all the bare Acts passed in a particular year.
Codes-private publications
A.I.R. (All India Reporter)-It has a section containing Acts passed by Parliament.
A.I.R. Manual– In it one can find all the Act passed by Parliament. The set has several good features: In the footnotes under each section of the Act relevant case law has been given; References have been made of the earlier amendments; etc.

(4) Case Law

Official Reports – Federal Court Reports (upto 1950) and Supreme Court Reports (since 1950) (a monthly publication) contains cases decided by the Supreme Court. Indian Law Reports contains cases decided by the State High Courts, published monthly and cited as “I.L.R. Allahabad”, “I.L.R. Bombay”, etc.

Private Reports -All India Reporter (AIR) is the most commonly used and relied upon even by the courts. It contains Supreme Court and High Courts cases.

Supreme Court Journal (published by Madras Law Journal), Supreme Court Cases (SSC) (published by Eastern Book Co.) SCALES (published by National Law Review, New Delhi) Judgment Today (JT) and Supreme Today also devoted to Supreme Court cases.

High Court cases are published in various journals like Allahabad Law Journal, Bombay Law Reporter, Calcutta Weekly Notes and Madras Law Journal.

Specialised law reports – These law reports specialise in cases pertaining to particular branches of law. Some of the popular ones are Labour Law Journal, Criminal Law Journal (Cr.L.J.), Income Tax Reports, Sales Tax Cases, etc.

(5) Legal Research

(a) Case History – It helps us know the development of law on a particular point. In the following publications, by taking up a case it is illustrated as to in what other cases the point of law involved in that particular case was discussed and developed – The Subject Noted Index of Cases (Madras Law Journal Ltd.), All India Point Noted Index of Overruled and Reversed Cases (1911-1961, S.N. Bagga) and Supreme Court Reference Citations (1950-75, P.J. Patel).

(b) Digests – They play an important role in collecting cases on a particular subject. There are many good digests with abstracts of cases of the Supreme Court and High Courts: Yearly Digest (a monthly published by the Madras Law Journal Ltd.); Fifty Years Digests (1901-1950) and Fifteen Year Digests (1951-1965) published by the A.I.R.

(c) Legal Periodicals – An indispensable tool of legal research is the journal. Legal writings in law journals are a rich source of information on a particular point. The basic advantage of an article over a textbook is that it deals with a specific area in depth.

The leading law journal of India devoted exclusively to legal writing is the Journal of the Indian Law Institute (Quarterly). Other law journals include:

Accidents Claims Journal (Delhi); Allahabad Law Journal (A.I.R.), Annual Survey of Indian Law (ILI, Delhi); Criminal Law Journal (A.I.R.); Delhi Law Review (Faculty of law, Delhi University); Indian Journal of International Law (Delhi); Lucknow Law Times (Estern Book Co.); Kerala Law Journal; Journal of the Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies (Delhi); Journal of the Bar Council of India (Delhi); Rent Control Journal (Delhi); etc.

There are various foreign periodicals available also, e.g., Journal of Planning and environmental Law (London), Public Law (London), Law & Society Review (USA), etc. One way to use the periodicals is to consult the cumulative indexes, in which all the material is listed at one place, author- wise as well as subject-wise.

For a researcher working on a new problem, it is advisable to start with the textbooks on the subject. This will not only give the reader a  proper idea of the subject but also enable him to find out several other sources of study and decided cases on the subject. After this has been done the research may be brought upto date by scanning the latest cases, subsequent legislative changes, articles, journals and other materials.

A comment on the law reporting in India

There is in India at the present time a plethora of law reports. Most of these reports are published by private enterprise for commercial ends. The result is that the quantity of case law being reported at present is far in excess of all reasonable and legitimate requirements. According to the Law Commission, the worst sin of the unofficial law reports in India is indiscriminate reporting of cases. Cases are reported regardless of their value as precedents, such as, cases which have either no legal principle involved, or which involve merely questions of fact, or where it is only an interlocutory matter with no final adjudication. There is a good deal of repetitiveness and overlapping, the same cases being reported in several
series of reports.

Thus, the system of law-reporting as it operates in India at present is neither efficient nor expedient; it is of enormous quality but of uncertain and dubious quality. The system is inconvenient and expensive both for the litigants as well as the profession; it involves unnecessary waste of time and labour, and it makes the task of the legal practitioners difficult and confusing.

Though it is neither possible nor desirable to eliminate private reporting completely, yet some selectivity of cases to be reported is a desideratum. The present day multiplicity of private law reports should somehow give way to a few sets of quality reports which may adequately meet the legitimate needs of the lawyers. The whole system of law reporting, thus, requires rationalisation, simplification and coordination.

Reading a Statue

Different parts of a statute

(1) Short Title e.g., The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986. It is normal to use the short title and year of publication to describe the statute. Sometimes, when a statute is referred to constantly, the short title is abbreviated e.g. N.I. Act for Negotiable Instruments Act.

(2) Official Citation- e.g., [Act No. 60 of 1986]. Each Act passed in any one year is given its own number.

(3) Date of Enactment – e.g., [23rd December, 1986]. This indicates when the Presidential Assent was given and the Bill became an Act.

(4) Long Title- e.g., An Act to prohibit indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The long title gives some indication of the purpose behind the Act. It may be of some use in deciding what the Act is all about. However, long titles are sometimes vague and may conflict with the main body of the Act. In such case, the main body of the Act prevails.

(5) Enacting Formula – e.g., Be it enacted by Parliament in the Thirty-seventh year of the Republic of India as follows.

It is the standard from of words used to indicate that a Bill has been properly passed by all the different parts of the legislature.

(6) Marginal Notes – There are the short explanation of the content of a section. These may help to understand the content of the section if it is otherwise unclear.

(7) Headings These are titles to the sections e.g. Section 3. Prohibition of advertisements containing indecent representation of women; section 5- Powers to enter and search.

(8) Sections – The main body of the statute is broken up into numbered sections. Each section contains a different rule of law. Sections are often written in an abbreviated form as S. or Sec.

Sections are often further sub-divided, called as sub-sections, which are written in brackets after the main section e.g., Section 6(2).

In larger statutes, section may be grouped together into different parts. Each Part will deal with a separate area of law.

(9) Explanations – These are sometimes appended to a section to make clear or explain the meaning of a particular word as used in that section or to clarify the provisions of that section.

(10) Provisos A proviso is added to an enactment to qualify or create an exception to what is in the enactment. If the enacting portion of a section is not clear, a proviso may give an indication as to its true meaning.

(11) Illustrations – Sometimes, illustrations are appended to a section which although forming no part of section, are of value in construing a section. But, like explanations, they cannot be
used to widen the ambit of a section.

(12) Schedules – Some statutes have one or more Schedules at the end. Some contain detailed provisions which are not found in the main body of the Act. Others are merely convenient  is reminders and summaries of legal rules.

Where a Schedule is divided up, the divisions are known as paragraphs, and abbreviated as “para” e.g. Schedule I, Para 2.

Using a Statute

When first reading statutory material, one may be able to gain some help in deciding what it means from commentaries. Commentaries are explanations of the law written by legal academics or practitioners.

Annotated statutes (statutes with an accompanying explanatory text) are one useful source of such commentaries. Such commentaries may also be found in the books. It is important to note that a commentary represents only one author’s opinion of what the statute says.

There are certain important things to remember while reading a statute:

(i) When reading a statute, do not begin at the beginning and then work your way through to the end section.

(ii) Statutes should be read carefully and slowly.

(iii) Statutes should be read in the context of the general Acts, rules and principles of statutory interpretation.

(iv) The fact that a statute has been printed does not mean that it is part of the law of the land. It may have been repealed. It may not yet be in force.

(v) The general rule is that a statute means precisely what it says. Each word is important. Because of this, some words which we use loosely in ordinary conversation take on special significance when found in a statute.

For example, it is important to distinguish between words like “may” and “shall”, one saying you can do something, and the  other saying you must do something.

Conjunctives, such as “and”, joining things together, must be distinguished from disjunctives, such as ‘or”, dividing things of apart.

(vi) The special meanings of the words used in a statute can be found in the Act, often in sections called definition or interpretation sections.

Sometimes, Parliament when laying down a particular meaning for a word will say that meaning will apply in all statutes in which that word appears. Unless a statute specifically says this, you should assume that a definition in a statue applies only to the use of word in that statue.

(vii) Special attention should be given to the provisos or exceptions to a particular section, provided in the Act.

(viii) The Preamble although not an enacting part, express the scope, object and purpose of a Act more comprehensively than the long title. The Preamble to the Constitution of India is of great significance.

Rules of interpretation of Statutes

It is not possible for the legislature to foresee all situations, while drafting laws i.e. modern Acts and Rules. Thus it is quite often that one find courts and lawyers busy in unfolding the meaning of ambiguous words and expressions and resolving inconsistencies. The age-old process of the application of the enacted law has led to formulation of certain ‘rules of interpretation or construction’. According to Salmond, “Interpretation or construction is the process by which the courts seeks to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed”. In short, interpretation refers to ‘actual finding of true meaning of particular word in a statute’.

Liberal and strict interpretation are two major types of interpretation. The literal or strict interpretation is confined to the ‘letter’ i.e. actual words used in statute. The liberal or logical interpretation permits departure from the letter of law. Social welfare legislations (e.g. Rent Act, Industrial and labour legislations, etc.) are construed liberally, while fiscal statutes (I.T. Act) and penal statutes (Cr. P.C., Law of Limitation) are construed strictly.

The court is not expected to interpret arbitrarily and consequently there have to be certain principles which have evolved out of the continuous exercise by the courts. These principles are sometimes called rules of interpretation.

(1) Literal, grammatical or plain meaning rule – It means to give to the words their ordinary, natural and grammatical meaning prima facie. This has been called the “safest rule” because the legislator’s intention can be deduced only from the language through which it has expressed itself. However, the rule fails to take into account that essence of law lies in its ‘spirit’ and not in its ‘letter’. A strict adherence to this rule is not possible, departure is inevitable in so many circumstances.

(2)Golden rule – If the strict literal interpretation gives rise to an absurdity or inconsistency, such interpretation should be discarded and an interpretation which will give effect to the purpose of legislation will be put on the words, if necessary even by modification of the language used. On the face of it, rule solves all problems and is, therefore, known as the ‘golden rule’. The court would however, go not beyond what is absolutely necessary in a practical situation as it cannot extend the meaning and scope of the statute.

(3) Beneficial construction rule – This rule permits the judges to construe liberally. When the statutory words are capable of two meanings preference should be given to that meaning which produces the more reasonable and just result, as the justice and reason constitute the great general legislative intent in every piece of legislation. For instance, socio-economic legislation with the object of securing social welfare is not meant to be interpreted narrowly so as to defeat its object, viz. Workmen’s Compensation Act, Equal Renumeration Act, Juvenile Justice Act, etc.

(4) Harmonious construction rule – This rule lays down that “every effort should be made to give effect to all the provisions of an Act by harmonising any apparent conflict between two or more of its provisions”. It is to prevent or avoid inconsistency or repugnancy between two sections or within a section or between different provisions of a statute or between the two statutes.


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