Legal Interpreting Skill Development:
Reading & Understanding Court Decisions
This activity guide enhances legal interpreting skills by providing steps to read and more accurately understand court decisions. It outlines levels of inquiry to get the most out of case law which shapes each decision the courts make. Cases for practice can be found in Court Decisions.
The legal system adheres to the doctrine of STARE DECISIS, which is Latin for “stand by decided matters.” This means that a court will be bound to rule in accordance with a previously made ruling on the same type of case. Precedent, or case law, is binding on courts of the same or lower level and applies only if there is no legislative statute created, or higher court ruling, that overrules it.
Example of case law application provided by the Content Team of Legal Dictionary (2016)
Stacy, a tenant in a duplex owned by Martin, filed a civil lawsuit against her landlord, claiming he had not given her enough notice before raising her rent, citing a new state law that requires a minimum of 90 days’ notice. Martin argues that the new law applies only to landlords of large multi-tenant properties. When the state court hearing the case reviews the law, he finds that, while it mentions large multi-tenant properties in some context, it is actually quite vague about whether the 90-day provision applies to all landlords. The judge, based on the specific circumstances of Stacy’s case, decides that all landlords are held to the 90-day notice requirement, and rules in Stacy’s favor.
A year later, Frank and Adel have a similar problem. When they sue their landlord, the court must use the previous court’s decision in applying the law. This example of case law refers to two cases heard in the state court, at the same level. The ruling of the first court created case law that must be followed by other courts within the same jurisdiction until or unless either new law is created, or a higher court rules differently (“Example of Case Law Application”).
For the purpose of the Toolkit for Legal Interpreters, case studies are documented specific real-life legal situation/scenario – such as a document that summarizes a court decision - used as a teaching tool in helping interpreters gain a deeper understanding of some aspect of the legal system and their work as interpreters within that system. A case study that involves a court decision can also help interpreters gain a deeper understanding of the law and its application to specific legal issues, as well as an appreciation for legal procedure and processes. Case analysis will assist interpreters in gaining an understanding of the role of CASE LAW within the court system.
Reading and Analyzing Court Decisions
The following questions and brief narrative were adapted from an online case guide posted by the University of Albany. The adaptation provides you with steps to get the most out of a case - in terms of understanding the case itself, of comprehending how it relates to other cases, and to considering the implications for interpreting. There are six (6) different levels of inquiry, though you may be able to develop a good grasp of cases using more or fewer groups of questions as you practice the process. If you can answer all these questions, you can be assured that you have a thorough understanding of the case.
Levels of Inquiry
Once you have gone through these levels of inquiry and have answers to the questions, the next part of the process is to create your summary and reflections. Your summary and reflection can be shared with a mentor and/or peers.
Content team. (2016, April 28). Case law. Legal Dictionary. https://legaldictionary.net/case-law/
A PDF version of this guide is available - Reading & Understanding Court Decisions
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