Reading a Case File

Reading a Case File

A person READING books, documents, files, etc. will surely come to one’s mind whenever one thinks about a lawyer. 

Reading is a crucial job under a lawyer’s work profile. Of which the most important thing is reading the Case File.

But I have to handle so many matters..!!” is no excuse to you if you are an Advocate.
I have seen many incidents where the judge asks a specific question and the advocate gets confused or answers incorrectly due to lack of knowledge of that case. If you are assisting an arguing counsel and he makes a wrong submission, then too you will be held responsible because the arguing counsel is completely relying on your information. And this may end up in harsh scoldings and embarrassment.
All, only because you didn’t read the file properly.

An advocate is ought to know the minutest details of a particular case he is handling.
And that is only possible if you read the case file thoroughly.
In the starting phase, a novice lawyer may not even understand where to start, which part to pay more attention, which is the right file, right page, right para etc. that needs practice.

A Case File consists of Court drafts, judgements, acknowledgements, sometimes even maps, certificates, photographs, etc. and many others documents depending on the case. We can simplify it just for the sake of our understanding under the following headings.

1) Documents belonging to litigants.
It includes pleadings, rejoinders, replies, affidavits, etc.
Don’t forget to check out the prayer para to get an idea what the pleadings is about.

2) Documents belonging to courts & Judicial authorities.
It consists of copies of Judgements relevant to case which are to be cited during arguments.
These Judgements are usually not part of pleadings, you may come across it during appeals.
Also includes Orders & Judgements of other courts. This happens when same litigants are involved in more than one cases which is being tried in different courts simultaneously or in case of appeals.

3) Documents belonging to other govt.authorities.
It includes Administrative Documents. ex: Filing receipts, office reports, any correspondence with the court registry.
Don’t ignore them as these receipts become important when the court is verifying whether particular documents were filed within the specified time.
It also includes Documents belonging to Government or Public Authority. ex: Special Statute or Regulations, Public Notices, Official Guidelines, publications which may provide data, analysis, policy indicators on specific topics, etc.

Now comes the question, How to exactly read a case file?
First golden rule is ‘Do not Skim’ & ‘Do not Skip’ through it. At least in your first read.

Reading Case files
Start by attentively reading the Cover page – It will answer the major questions. It tells you in which court is the matter going on, type of proceedings, name of the parties, in which year the matter is filed, connection to another matter if any.

Then go through EACH page of the file, so that you know, what is where, what were the arguments at each stage, what were the findings, etc. You must be able to answer random questions thrown at you by the court,  ex: what is the date of this order?, what are these misc. applications for?, no. of days in case of delay, etc.

Index – Tells you what exactly it contains. If your file doesn’t have an index then create one.
Most of the time people read their side of the arguments attentively and give less importance to the submissions made by the other side. You must also know, what the other side has submitted. It can work in your favour too, if the other side says something contradictory to what they have said in the earlier hearings. So don’t do that mistake, it is equally important.

Make Notes – Firstly segregate all the documents. Make a list of all the events, documents and the calendar dates of that event beside it. Do mention the details of those documents. Details like its Source(from where did you get it and who gave it), if any, Type of copy filed(original, certified, photocopy, typed, translated), etc.
Mark with a highlighter, what you feel as necessary to be highlighted.
All this will help you very much when you read the same file again. Which is usually certain.


Arrange the documents Chronologically (Below are some examples)

Keep the Trial Court orders first, because they are usually prior in time to orders of appeal court. Except, when appeal has been filed against an interim order of trial court. In that case the proceedings before the Trial court may continue & other orders may be passed after appeal court decides on interim order.

Pleadings of plaintiffs must be prior in time then of Respondents. Except, when an interim application is filed by any party, so the chronology will be determined accordingly.

Interim orders be kept prior than the final order. There may be multiple interim orders in same case, even on same application. Interim orders may be stayed, vacated or modified during course of proceedings before same court. So don’t get confused. Arrange all other miscellaneous documents according to its relevance, ex: photographs, certificates, reports, etc.

Reading a case file must make you think of questions like – 
What’s the present status? Is it on trial or appeal?
Pleadings, arguments, evidence completed or no? What’s the purpose of reading this file? What will be your contribution? What’s the deadline for it?
What will your senior, court, clients, other lawyers may expect you to know about the case?!!

While reading a file you must have one of the 2 approaches –
To summarise the whole case file or a particular document. Do it better by making good notes.
To investigate – Your senior may be knowing the case and may tell you to check something to get information or confirmation.

So you must read the file accordingly to fulfill the purpose you had in mind before reading. 

Most of the important points regarding this are covered here. Do you think I missed something?? Please let us know about it in the comments below. 🙂 


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