How Judges Decide Cases: Reading, Writing and Analysing Judgments
£45, Wildy, Simmonds & Hill Publishing
Lord Denning pops up as often as one might expect in a book devoted to the art of judgment. The well-known introduction ‘It was bluebell time in Kent’ (Hinz v Berry) hints at Goodman’s two-fold enquiry: what is the process of deciding and what does the language of judgments tell the audience about that process?
Now in a second edition, this book is an in-depth review of that decision-making process. It looks at the construction and writing of judgments, before spending the second half of the book on interpretation: how to read judgments, what language is used, and how to analyse them.
Some of the material is self-evident, at least to those of us in the profession, and nine pages on cognitive heuristics – those mental shortcuts people use to make decisions and which may result in unconscious bias – seemed excessive (or at least better suited to an appendix).
Goodman brings together commentary on the practical matter of fact-finding and how judges think through and structure their opinions, with sections on legal linguistics, literary allusions and a whole chapter devoted to criticism (the analysis and deconstruction of judgments). This is a really useful resource for the student, litigation professional or anyone with aspirations to the bench.
Particularly handy, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the penultimate chapter on the use of law reports. Puzzled law students – and many practitioners – would do well to read this exploration of precedent and the purpose of case reporting. A brief review of the modern history of legal reporting from the late 18th century onwards leads to a fascinating discussion of the role of editors in published reports, and the temptation by judges to revise their judgments after the event (Lord Denning, again).
Goodman makes excellent use of the pithy quote, dropping various bon mots from well-known figures, which makes for an easy yet informative read.
Perhaps the most striking thing that emerges from this comprehensive review is the discipline and thought required in order to write a good judgment, even before considering legal validity.
Goodman quotes from Denning’s The Discipline of Law: ‘I took infinite pains in the writing of an opinion. I crossed out sentence after sentence. I wrote them again and again.’ Given the importance of judgments to the courts and communities we serve as practitioners, reading this deep-dive is highly recommended.
Tom Garbett is a solicitor