If you’re in law school, you have no doubt been asked to brief a case. To help you out, I’ll go over what you should include in your case brief in this article along with some advice on how to write one. I also created a case brief template that you can download for free below that you can use to make the entire process even easier!
What is a Case Brief?
A case brief is a summary of a court decision. It generally includes the following sections: case name and citation, parties, facts, procedural history, issues, holding, reasoning, ratio, concurring or dissenting opinions, and obiter dicta.
Case Name & Citation
This is the name of the case and the legal citation. It is also known as the style of cause. It will look something like this: R. v. Jordan, 2016 SCC 27.
The parties are the people who are directly involved in the case. Depending on the type of case, the parties may be called differently. In a civil case, the parties are called plaintiff (the one who is suing) and the defendant (the one being sued). In a criminal case, the parties are the Crown (usually denoted by “R“) and the accused. In an appellate case, the parties are called the appellant (the one appealing a decision) and the respondent (the one responding to the appeal). In this part of the case brief, provide the names of the different parties.
This section is where you summarize what happened in the case. Include legally relevant facts only. Those are the facts that are important to the outcome of the case. It might help to look at the court’s reasoning to determine which facts are legally relevant (the more a court refers to a fact in reaching its decision, the more relevant it is). You can also include any background facts that provide context or help the reader understand the relevant facts. But you should avoid including irrelevant facts (facts that don’t really matter to the case).
If the case you’re briefing is an appellate decision, you should include a section on procedural history. This is what happened in lower courts that have already heard the case. Include all levels of court that have previously heard the case. For example, if you’re briefing a case that was heard at the Supreme Court of Canada, your procedural history should include what happened at the Court of Appeal level and the trial court level. Briefly explain how the case was decided in previous rulings and why that decision was made.
This is the legal question that the court is making a decision on. It should always be in question format e.g. Should bankrupt oil and gas companies be required to fulfill their environmental obligations before paying its creditors? Where appropriate, include sub-issues that are necessary to answer the main question.
This is the court’s decision/conclusion i.e. the outcome of the case. Include any remedy or action that the court has ordered.
The court’s reasons for its decision which is also usually called the “Analysis” section. Here, you should describe how the court applied the law (the legal tests) to the specific facts of the case. This will likely be the longest section of your case brief.
The ratio or ratio decidendi is a Latin term that refers to the legal rule or principle that the court relied on to come to its decision. It is binding on lower courts.
Concurring or Dissenting Opinions
A concurring opinion is the opinion of a judge or judges who agree with the majority’s decision but came to that conclusion in a different way.
A dissenting opinion is the opinion of a judge or judges who disagree with both the majority’s reasoning and their decision).
Not every case will have a concurring or dissenting opinion. If the case you’re briefing does, you should ummarize the concurring and dissenting opinions (what decision was reached and how).
Another Latin term, obiter dicta refers to comments made by a judge “in passing” (this means it doesn’t form part of the decision of the case). Unlike the ratio, obiter dicta is not binding on lower courts.
Case Brief Template (free download)
I’ve created a case brief template that you can download for free below. It includes my notes on the side that you can easily refer to while briefing cases.
For more templates, also check out: Law School Digital Planner
I hope you find this helpful! If you have any questions about the template, feel free to send me a message here. I’m more than happy to help!