Okay so technically this title makes no sense at all – wherefore, unfortunately, does not mean where. It means why – but I came up with this title before I googled the meaning of wherefore and loved it too much not to use it. So I’m going ahead with it, even if it makes little sense.
So Ratios. When I first came to uni I had no idea what it meant – or at least in legal jargon. I knew of Ratios in terms of the mathematical device, but as it turns out, the two are very different. And as it happens, the ratio is a funny thing; sometimes it’s obvious and easy to find, yet other times you can spend hours crawling through a case trying to figure what the legal principle is. So today I’m going to give you some tips on how to make finding that Ratio a little easier.
First things first, let’s cover what a Ratio actually is. Within every case, you have a decision that is made. The Ratio is the why – why they reached that decision with the given context and scenario – and it’s binding. It becomes a legal principle that applies to all similar or factually the same cases. If you stripped away all the facts of the case, the Ratio is what would be left.
Thus finding it, and understanding it, is super important, mainly for revision and exams – and here’s why. In preparing for exams there will be a lot of cases that you need to know, and you can’t learn them all – or not everything about them anyway. What you can do, and actually need to do, is learn the Ratio. The key legal principle from that case that you’re going to need to apply to the scenario you’re given in the exam. So here’s how you can make sure you find it.
Firstly, have you been told the Ratio in your lecture? If you have you’re done – you have the legal principle and you’re sorted. Alas, this is not always the case – all too often you might miss it in the lecture, not understand or simply not be given it. This is where you have to begin to look elsewhere, and this can be a bit of a challenging task. Especially so, if you’ve decided to go straight to Westlaw and start reading the case.
My first port of call, if I don’t know a ratio, is this wonderful website called Swarb. It’s one of my favourite sites to grab quick and easy information about a case, and I’m yet to come across one that they haven’t covered. On Swarb, you’ll usually find about two, super-short and super-simple paragraphs. One will give you a very basic rundown about the case background and what it was about. The latter will give you a summary of what happened and why – a.k.a the ratio.
Another runner-up website is e-lawresource, which is even simpler – the problem here is that it can be too simple, and not give you enough information. Also, e-lawresouce, only covers really notable and high profile cases. Swarb, alternatively, covers all cases (English Law and some EU Law cases).
However, if Swarb hasn’t solved your problem, your next stop is Westlaw. But don’t worry – you don’t have to read the whole case. You need to find your case and then navigate to the Case Analysis, right before the body of the case. Again, like Swarb, it should give you a short rundown of the facts of the case, the decision that was reached and why, though this may be a little wordier than Swarb.
If this still hasn’t clarified things for you, you now have two options, depending on the case. If the case in question is a landmark case, or high profile and notable, then it’s likely that mainstream news outlets and papers will have covered it. Thus, you can run a quick google search and you’ll likely come across either a Telegraph, Guardian or BBC article, on the case – I’d recommend these papers as they’re the best ones to use when searching for things like this. Being aimed at the everyday person, with little to no legal knowledge, the article will usually provide the ratio in an easy to understand format. What’s even better, is that depending on whether it’s a straight-up informative article or a discursive article, it may even provide some discussion and analysis regarding the decision of the case. This can help to develop your own points about the case at hand, which can help to push you up a grade in an exam. If, however, you are using the points made in the article to develop an essay, then don’t forget to reference it.
However, if Swarb and West Law Case Analysis didn’t help, and it’s not a well documented high profile trial, then you are now in a position where you are going to have to read the case. However, there is a way to make this a little easier. For starters, if you understand some of the ratio, or have a rough idea of what it is, you can use command-f to find keywords/sentences in the case, to save you reading the whole thing.
Nonetheless, sometimes it remains that you will have to read the whole case, and this is just part of being a law student. Sometimes it won’t be to find the ratio – you do get cases when the premise of facts can be just as important, possibly to consider a reverse ratio eg. if the facts were opposite then x would have happened. Or maybe you’ll have to read the case to locate and understand Obiter’s, which are often not as straight forwards as Ratios.
Ultimately, Ratio’s don’t have to be hard to find, nor do they have to be confusing, and hopefully this article has given you some tips on how to make Ratio’s a little easier.