Good court judgments play a very important role in society. Essentially judges interpret and apply the common law and legislation to real-life situations and finally decide disputes, subject to any right of review or appeal. In doing so, they resolve disputes for and between the parties. But good judgments also provide guidance to society at large on what is expected in certain circumstances and how they should resolve their own disputes. That means that lawyers, facilitators and mediators help citizens to resolve their disputes without going to court. Good judgments also assist arbitrators when making binding awards.
Why good judgments are so important
Good judgments provide a path or guide for citizens to resolve their disputes themselves. Where the issues in dispute closely resemble an earlier resolved dispute the parties can predict the outcome because that matter has already ‘judged’. Well reasoned and sound judgments provide certainty on how a future court should decide a dispute without incurring all the costs of going to court.
This is why it is called “setting a precedent”.
Well reasoned and clear court judgments set binding precedents for lower courts to follow. Generally speaking, judges must follow judgments of a court at the same or higher level to provide certainty to society at large.
Parties to a dispute that they cannot resolve themselves usually seek assistance from an independent body (like a court) to finally decide the matter. But it is very costly and first prize is to avoid costly litigation – it is much simpler to be guided by court judgments that will be applied if the law and the facts are similar.
Problem with many court judgments
The problem with many judgments is that there can be lengthy delays whilst they are written and delivered. Unfortunately many judgments are not in plain and understandable language. Often they are very long and it is difficult to know and understand how it should be applied in the future. The issues are not contextualised and the judgment is not categorised.
Some judgments fail to explain why it is significant to a broader audience. Judgments often indicate whether they should be ‘reported’ in a commercial law reporting system, such as LexisNexis or Jutas, or are only of interest to other judges. In many instances there is a failure to indicate the significance to broader society.
The Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) does a remarkable job of publishing legal information for free public access comprising mainly case law from South Africa. But the value of the ‘raw’ material is often incomprehensible to the general public. It is not easy to find a judgment that is particularly relevant to your actual circumstances.
If so, the judgments do not achieve their overall purpose and objective.
One solution is for judges to educate readers and enable them to know, understand and apply the law to particular situations. This requires a concerted effort and training in the art of writing sound judgments.
We believe that GilesFiles is also part of the solution by providing a type of ‘gap analysis’. We close the gap between the date judgments are delivered (and become freely available on SAFLII) and when they appear in the law reports. That can take up to 4 months and during that period ignorance is not bliss. Unreported judgments carry the same weight as reported judgments. So we constantly monitor all unreported judgments relating to the World of Work and store them in a comprehensive private database. Important judgments are selected for inclusion in GilesFiles. The basic information is provided, such as the names of the parties, the judge, the court, case number and the date with a hyperlink to SAFLII.
But then the hard work starts by mining and finding vital valuable information. The essence and significance of the judgments are ‘extracted’ and discussed. To allow for easy access each judgment is categorized by court, judge, topic and sector apart from other categories. Some judgments are treated as landmarks. GilesFiles is searchable and there are numerous tags. As and when judgments are eventually reported we update the posts together with any comments on the judgment by some Thought Leaders, such as Darcy du Toit, John Grogan and PAK le Roux.
GilesFiles is also indirectly involved through Graham Giles in an important textbook:
Darcy du Toit et al Labour Relations Law: A Comprehensive Guide 6ed (LexisNexis 2015)
Events quickly overtake textbooks and so GilesFiles updates the chapters of that book by listing later judgments relating to each chapter. In some instances later judgments overturn judgments cited in the textbook. Obviously it is very important for all legal practitioners to know the latest law and avoid the embarrassment of being ‘trumped’ by the judge or an opponent.
To sum up
GilesFiles enables you to mind the ‘reporting gap’ and get quick and easy access to the latest unreported court judgments. GilesFiles digests them and provides you with the information you need to determine if there is a solution to your problem. By quoting the actual judgment as well you can also dive deeper or drill down. Our main aim is to empower citizens to know and understand the law and thereby enrich society through making judgments more accessible and easier to follow as guides or precedents.