Sunday, 22 May 2011


Legal methods-Legal reasoning

Legal reasoning is the process by which lawyers think about any legal problem and reason is the life of the law. Legal means something that is catered for within the confines of law[1]. Legal reasoning is summarized in a formula known as IRAC (which stands for issue, rule, analysis and conclusion).this formula forms a fundamental building block for legal reasoning. The beauty of IRAC is that it allows a lawyer to reduce the complexities of law to a simple equation[2].When dealing with legal reasoning, its cardinal principles should always be remembered in order to know its applicability and methodology especially in the legal frame work.
The principles as already mentioned above include;

             This is the legal issue and it does not ask just any interesting question that arises out ones minds but only asks whether the law has anything to say about a particular topic in question between the parties.
An example would be of this potential legal client who comes in and says that her boss is mean and rude, he yells and screams and makes work wholly unpleasant. The client wants to know if she has a claim. I (as a legal consultant) already know that there is no law (no rule) that prohibits a boss from being a behaving in such deeds. However, as a legal consultant experience tells me that the question should be: “is this boss engaging in conduct which is unlawful discrimination?”
There fore this only gives a party to a case in any question to know whether the law has any relevance to an issue in question.

Under this principle there are two rules which normally exist and they are state the rule and cite the rule.
State the rule should be taken with great care because in every civil and criminal litigation despite the jurisdiction, lawyers and even judges are required to state what the law is so as to make their arguments binding and even persuade the judges to rule in favor of those who cleary articulates on the principle hence giving justice to one who cleary states what the rule is in law.

Cite the rule is a situation where the law is based on existing rules even when a decision is based upon what is “fair” it’s because there is a rule that says the decision of this type of issue will be based on fairness.

There are lots and lots of facts that make up the client’s story. For the purposes of legal analysis, we look for material facts of a case so as to be guided on principles. these are facts that fit the element of the rule and it should be remembered that a fact can not be rebut table because facts are normally supplemented by availing evidence to the judges in order for them to be satisfied.

At this stage the legal fraternity is normally interested in knowing if the material facts fit the law before coming up with the decision. if the analysis corresponds with the material facts of a case then it is in good faith for justice be decided in the party that has availed and supported his argument to the satisfaction of the judges.

To sum it all it must be affirmed that all the elements of the rule are met and conclude in the example I gave of a client saying that her boss is rude and mean that her boss engaged in unlawful discrimination.

Having mentioned the principles of legal reasoning, there are key examples which lawyers and judges follow in making their decisions and judgments when in civil and criminal litigation and most of the examples are precedents, stare decisis and common law.
A precedent is the decision of a court (or other adjudicative body) that has a special legal significance. That significance lies in the court's decision being regarded as having practical, and not merely theoretical, authority over the content of the law. A decision has theoretical authority if the circumstances in which it was made (the identity of the decision-makers, those involved in arguing the case, the availability of evidence or time) provide good reasons for believing the decision to be correct in law.
 A precedent can also mean the decision on the law in a case before a court or some similar legal decision-maker such as a tribunal. Paradigmatically in Common Law legal systems a judicial decision is given in a judgment which has five aspects to it:
  1. a recitation of the facts of the case, i.e., an account of what happened;
  2. an identification of the legal issue—the disputed question of law—which the court is being asked to resolve;
  3. the reasoning over the appropriate resolution of that issue;
  4. the ruling resolving the issue put before the court, e.g. that in these circumstances the defendant has breached a contract, or does not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, or holds the property on trust for a third party, or made a decision contrary to natural justice; and
  5. the result or outcome of the case, i.e., which party succeeded in the action; which follows from (d).the above aspects are affirmed and summarized in the case of  State v Dosso[3] where lord Munir C J that a victorious revolution or successful coup d’etat was an international recognized legal method of changing a constitution and the revolution having become successful in Pakistan and people not protesting satisfied the efficacy(revolutionary legality)of change and became a basic law creating fact
.This set a precedent in other jurisdictions for example in Ghana especially in the celebrated case of E.K Shallah v Attorney General[4]  where after the constitution of 1969 came into effect it was called upon to determine legal implications of the military coup d’etat on the pre-existing legal system. the supreme court held that the suspension of the constitution of 1960 by military coup had no effect of destroying the legal order. this was derived from the principle that was decided upon in state v Dosso.
 Institutional decision-makers often regard earlier decisions as being relevant even when the decision at hand is different from the original ones, by citing them as analogies (some theorists argue that the use of analogies in law is not a form of ‘reasoning’ at all). They will argue that since an earlier decision was made on some matter, it would be inconsistent now to decide the present case differently. Individuals, by contrast, will often simply attend to the merits of the particular question before them and try to get the decision right. If it is pointed out that their current decision seems to be inconsistent with how they treated an earlier question, this may prompt them to reconsider, but is not in itself a reason to change their decision. At the end of the day they may conclude that their earlier decision was a mistake, or they may even embrace the apparent inconsistency, believing that both the earlier and the later decisions are correct even though they are not sure how they can be reconciled.
An analogical argument in legal reasoning is an argument that a case should be treated in a certain way because that is the way a similar case has been treated. Arguments by analogy complement arguments from precedent in two ways: (i) they are used when the facts of a case do not fall within the ratio of any precedent, in order to assimilate the result to that in the analogical case; and (ii) they are used when the facts of a case do fall within the ratio of a precedent, as a basis for distinguishing the case at hand from the precedent. There are two major alternative accounts, the one relying on principles, the other on reasons. An influential view on analogy regards it as grounded in the principles that underlie existing cases[5]  A body of cases can be examined to determine which principle (or set of coherent principles) explains and justifies those decisions, in a process akin to reflective equilibrium
The reasons-based approach also to analogical reasoning focuses on the justifications for the analogical case. It considers the extent to which the rationale for the decision in the earlier case is applicable to the case at hand. Take the case of the impersonation of a boyfriend in the law of rape. Whether this situation is analogous to the impersonation of a husband depends on the reasons for the latter vitiating consent. There need be no single principle that underlies the rationale: it may rest on a number of factors that reinforce the conclusion.
Arguments from analogy vary in their strengths: from very ‘close’ analogies (which strongly support a result) to more ‘remote’ analogies (which weakly support a result). Analogies do not bind: they must be considered along with other reasons in order to reach a result. Analogical reasoning helps to make the outcome of cases more predictable by giving weight to existing legal decisions and doctrines. But it only does so against a certain background, one where despite decision-makers not sharing a uniform normative outlook, there is a large measure of agreement on the existence and importance of certain values
The strongest justification for analogical reasoning, however, lies in the value of explicability. This is often put in terms of the importance of ‘coherence’ in the law[6]
Precedent and analogy are two central and complementary forms of legal argument. What makes them characteristic of legal reasoning is the circumstances of decision-making in law. The greatest contrast is with individual reasoning, where neither precedent nor analogy has the same significance. An individual may give weight to what she has done in the past, e.g. because she believes the decision was made under optimum conditions, or she should not or does not want to disappoint someone's expectations, or there are special reasons to treat the two situations identically
Legal reasoning therefore in precedent and analogy, gives a weight to what has been decided in the past that is usually absent from personal decision-making. This makes those in the legal fraternity to know the right decisions in the past, but also seek to make the right decisions now, unconstrained by the earlier views.
This is a Latin phrase which means to stand by things decided. Stare decisis asserts two things and one is that courts are reluctant to change rules of law that were established in their prior decisions. This is also called mandatory authority and it can also be called vertical stare decisis where decisions of higher courts bind the lower courts and are bound to follow them.
It asserts also that lower courts must follow precedents established by higher courts and this may also be called horizontal stare decisis where judges are bound by decisions of earlier judges of similar or co-ordinate level.
The doctrine of stare decisis usually turns on the determination of identity between two cases; a determination can not be made unless the facts and reasoning of prior case are known.
Stare decisis guarantees a constant level of quality, reasoning, raising all error for collection and discussion in the law and application of the law. legal reasoning was witnessed in the celebrated case of Linda Brown v Board of Education, where Linda was an eight year old black child who had to cross to Topeka Kansas to attend grade school, while her white friends were able to attend classes at a public school just a few blocks away. The Topeka school system was segregated on the basis of race and under the separate but equal doctrine, this arrangement was acceptable and legal.Lindas parents sued in the federal district court on the basis that separate facilities for blacks were inherently unequal. the case was over ruled and lindas parents and other families in other school systems appealed to the supreme court that even facilities that were physically equal did not take into account intangible factors and that segregation it self has a deleterious effect on the education of black children and in the appeal the issue was whether racial segregation of children in public schools deprive minority children of equal protection of laws under the 14th amendment. However it must be noted that in this case the lawyers were reasoning the decision made in an earlier case of Plessy v Fergusson[7] which unanimously held that the blacks were politically equal (in the sense that they had the same political rights) but socially unequal (blacks were not as socially advanced as whites) and the decision was also being reasoned out so as to be challenged by the Linda Brown case because it had been followed for over 50 years and in the Linda Brown case. It was held by the Supreme Court that there was to be end in racial segregation in all public schools hence, it signaled the end of segregation in United States that is segregation in public schools.
In the above case we see that the legal reasoning of the judges in the later case of Linda Brown came up with a good decision because segregation was dehumanizing and was an ancient belief or custom.
In legal reasoning by example, there are also elements such as the interpretation of case law, statutes and the constitution[8]. The whole essence or intent of legislature is that it enters into consideration of statute of by subsequent judges and so these judges have less flexibility in applying the statute than they would have in the consideration of case law.
Interestingly the case is different in constitutional law in that judges have more freedom than the case for statutory or case law. this freedom is marked under the guise of a search for the intent of the framers of the constitution or as a characterization of the constution as “a living document” which is again one of the cardinal principles for constitutional interpretation in Uganda.
In conclusion therefore this can go on and on but it still remains a fundamental idea that legal reasoning should always apply using the examples and principles of IRAC(issue,rule,analysis and conclusion) in day today legal transactions for the law to be more meaningful.

[1] Blacks Law Dictionary-eighth edition,912
[2] Law Nerds.Com-Learn the secret to legal reasoning.
[3] Pakistan case                                                                                                                                            
[4] S.C of Ghana 1969
[5]Eisenberg, M., 1988, The Nature of the Common Law, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 83–96;
[6] MacCormick, D.N., 1978 (1994), Legal Reasoning and Legal Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press
[7]( 1898) U.S SUPREME COURT
[8] An introduction to legal reasoning, Edward H.LEVI.

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