Kerala HC Cautions Subordinate Judiciary Against Just Relying On Head Notes In Law Journals [Read Order]

Kerala HC Cautions Subordinate Judiciary Against Just Relying On Head Notes In Law Journals [Read Order]

‘I believe, a law journal should be acclaimed not merely for the number of decisions it reports, but for the accuracy of the head notes and the usefulness of the decisions reported, both for the Bench and Bar.’

The Kerala High Court in Habeebullah vs. Mannadi Muslim Jama-ath has cautioned the subordinate courts against relying on head notes of the judgments reported in law journals.

 The headnote is not a part of the judgment at all and it is written up by the editor of the Law Journal concerned, remarked Justice A Hariprasad while disposing of an appeal against a remand order passed by the district court.

A suit for declaration and injunction was filed by a member of Mannady Muslim Jama-ath against termination of his membership citing the inter-religion marriage of his daughter. The trial court held that a suit under Section 9 of the CPC is maintainable. It also found that civil rights of the plaintiff have been violated and hence the declaratory and injunction decree sought for could be granted. The district court, on an appeal by Jama-ath, had remanded the matter.

Excommunication from membership of Jama-ath not ‘Wakf dispute’

The high court observed that none of the disputes raised in this suit falls within the scope of Section 6 or 7 of the Wakf Act. “The question of ex-communication from membership of the Jama-ath can never be treated as a dispute falling under Section 6 or 7 of the Wakf Act and Tribunal is incompetent to decide the questions in the suit,” the court said.

DJ quoted head notes, didn’t read the judgment

Setting aside the remand order, Justice Hariprasad observed: “In modest words, I state that the lower appellate judge, without understanding the real issues involved in the case, based his reasoning on certain provisions of the Wakf Act. To justify his reasoning, the lower appellate judge relied on certain decisions of the Supreme Court having no connection to the facts in dispute. Not only that, the lower appellate court, presided over by a District Judge, has not taken care to read the decision relied on in full, instead, he has quoted the head notes of the judgment.”

The court also observed that in a recent decision in TK Kunhikrishnan v State of Kerala, it had deprecated the practice adopted by subordinate courts in relying on head notes to decide, because the headnote is not a part of the judgment at all and it is written up by the editor of the Law Journal concerned.

No court can render a judgment by relying on a short note report

In TK Kunhikrishnan case, the high court had observed that, without reading the judgment as a whole and without considering the observations in the judgment in the light of the questions which were considered by a higher court, no court can render a judgment by relying on a short note report.

In that case, Justice Hariprasad had observed: “A decision reported as 'short note' or 'notes on cases' or 'case notes' or by whatever name it is called by a law publisher (ie., where a full text has not been reported) will be bereft of the essential background facts in which the decision was rendered. Culling out a portion from a judgment and reporting the same as short note will never serve the purpose of reporting a precedent because it will be devoid of the basic facts. It will be only a truncated portion of a judgment. Any paragraph or portion thereof extracted from a judgment and reported as short note or notes on cases, as the case may be, cannot be relied on as a binding precedent on account of non-mentioning of the facts involved in the case leading to the decision. So much so, a chance of wrongly applying the principles stated therein to a different set of facts in a given case becomes highly probable. Therefore, adjudication of a dispute by applying blindfoldedly a decision reported as short note will be a great disservice to the litigants and the system. In my view, the only purpose for which a short note in a law journal can be relied on is to understand that in some factual situation, certain legal principles have been stated by a higher court. It is incumbent upon a person relying on a short note (whether it be a law practitioner or a Judge) to understand clearly in what fact situation, the decision was rendered. In other words, whether the principles in a short note report should be applied to a given case or not should be decided only on understanding full facts involved in the judgment. District Judiciary, therefore, must be weary of the pitfalls in relying on short note decisions reported in law journals. In some law journals, they indicate that the full text of the decision reported as a short note, could be read from their website. That may help the legal fraternity to get at the facts in the decision. I believe, a law journal should be acclaimed not merely for the number of decisions it reports, but for the accuracy of the headnotes and the usefulness of the decisions reported, both for the Bench and Bar. Incidentally, I may also remind the District Judiciary that the headnotes do not form part of the reported judgment and it should be used only as guide to understand the matters dealt with in the judgment. I have no hesitation, therefore, to hold that any decision reported as short note or case note, as the case may be, cannot be relied on as a binding precedent and for that singular reason disposal of a case based on a short note report will be a travesty of justice.”

Read the Judgment Here