Instructions for Case Brief
Case brief: is a short summary and analysis of the case. It is a set of notes, presented in a systematic way, in order to sort out the parties, identify the issues, ascertain what was decided, and analyze the reasoning behind decisions made by the courts.
A case brief is usually no longer than one page; “brief” is an important part of the description, but that means capturing all important information in a concise and “to the point” manner (which is an excellent skill to develop).
There are 5 areas of a court brief:
Citation: The name of the case, year, court, and where it can be found e.g.: Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University (2018) SCC 32
Facts: A concise summary of the facts that are relevant to the decision. Specific dates are rarely important in this context; more important is the essence of the issue: what relevant facts led to the court case?
Issue: What is the legal issue that the court has to decide? This is not a matter of guilty/not guilty (in criminal law) but rather what is the basis for appeal? What are the parties asking the court to determine in terms of the law? Often a court will clearly identify the issue(s) to be decided. If there is a heading of “Issues” in the decision, then it’s a good bet that that is the issue for your case brief.
Decision: This is a brief statement (one sentence) on: a) which party “won” or what the court decided in brief (e.g. Held for the Plaintiff/Defendant); it is the outcome of the case. In an appeal case it is not always a unanimous decision; on appeal there are a minimum of 3 judges, they may not all agree. For appeal decisions there are three possibilities: unanimous (they all agree), Majority decision with concurring opinion (where another judge agrees with the outcome but not all the reasons), majority decision with dissenting opinion (where a judge does not agree with the decision) for the Plaintiff or the Defendant, and may include an order for damages or other matters. You must briefly state (without explanation) what the end decision is.
Reasons: This is where you summarize the legal reasoning of the court for deciding as it did. The reasons reflect the court’s analysis of current law, and the application of the law to the circumstances. Do not recite the facts here (that is what the “Facts” section is for) but you can summarize how the court applied the law to certain facts if that is appropriate. If the judge makes a statement of law, this is where it should be. The most important part of a case brief is the reasons section, which should be the largest part of the case brief; the legal reasons are what we really care about because they set precedent about how we consider the legal issue.
A few issues I have seen that you want to avoid:
Citation for cases within the case brief is not required
Make sure you are choosing the correct legal issue
Do not repeat facts in the reasons
Case Brief example #1
R. v. Goldfinch (2019) SCC
Facts: Mr. Goldfinch and the complainant dated for 7-8 months. After the relationship ended, the two became “friends with benefits”. One evening, they had drinks at Mr. Goldfinch’s residence when they also shared a consensual kiss. The following events described by Mr. Goldfinch and the complainant are contradictory. Mr. Goldfinch states the complainant followed him into the bedroom where they both removed their own clothing, engaged in consensual intercourse, and fell asleep. Soon, the complainant awakened Mr. Goldfinch complaining that he had hit her on the head while sleeping. He was annoyed and called her a taxi. However, the complainant attests she was dragged to the bedroom and Mr. Goldfinch demanded her to remove her clothes. He then pushed her onto the bed, struck her in the face, and engaged in forceful, non-consensual intercourse. The complainant called herself a taxi and called the police from her home. The police and forensics officer confirmed swelling on her left cheek and elbow. Mr. Goldfinch was charged with sexual assault. Mr. Goldfinch argued that in order to adequately defend himself it was significant for the jury to know that the complainant and himself shared a “friends with benefits” relationship; he asserted this was important context to their relationship. However, the Crown was willing to share that Mr. Goldfinch and the complainant dated, were still in contact, and the complainant occasionally stayed the night at Mr. Goldfinch’s residence. However, the trial judge admitted evidence of the parties’ sexual history. Mr. Goldfinch was found not guilty. The Crown Counsel appealed that the evidence of the complainant and the accused’s sexual history should not have been admitted and heard by the jury.
Issue: Should evidence of the complainant’s sexual history be admissible in the sexual assault trial per CCC s. 276?
Held: The complainant’s sexual history with the accused should not have been admissible.
Reasoning: The majority opinion states that the evidence of complainant’s sexual history does not meet the requirements of s.276 of the Criminal Code and may have influenced the acquittal and thus requiring a new trial. Section 276 seeks to reinforce the truth-seeking function of the court and protects complainants from the twin myths: (1) the complainant is more likely to consent to sexual activity if consented previously (2) complainant with sexual history is less worthy of belief. Section 276(1) prohibits introducing evidence of the complainant’s sexual activity. However, if the accused seeks to introduce this evidence, they must satisfy s.276(2) by demonstrating that evidence is of specific instances of sexual activity, which was met by the accused as he provided information about the nature of relationship and the time period. Next, the accused must prove relevance to issue at trial which the accused failed. Furthermore, s.276(3) also failed which required the evidence to hold significant probative value that is not outweighed by the risk of prejudicing the administration of justice. The evidence served no purpose other than affirming one of the myths that if the complainant had consented in the past, she more likely consented on the night in question.
Case Brief Example #2
Ceccol v. Ontario Gymnastic Federation, 2001 (ON CA)
Facts: Diana Ceccol was an employee of a non-profit athletic organization for 16 years and worked in a senior manager position. Her work situation involved a series of one-year fixed-term contracts between her and the employer, which were renewed each year. Included in this contract was a limited termination notice period, limiting the employee’s entitlement to what was required by the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”). The employer argued its liability was limited to the ESA. Her employment was terminated without cause. She refused to sign a release and sued for wrongful dismissal. She argued she was not really a fixed term employee but was really an indefinite employee because she was hired continuously for 16 years
Issue: Does a series of annual fixed term contracts over a significant period of time constitute an employer-employee relationship?
Decision: She was an indefinite employee. She is entitled to common law reasonable notice based on her 16 years of service.
Reasons: An employer cannot evade the traditional protections of the ESA & CL by resorting to the label of a fixed term contract when the underlying reality of the employment relationship is continuous service by the employee for a number of years coupled with verbal representations and conduct by the employer that clearly signal an indefinite term relationship
Reasoning: Substance over form. Also, there is a strong presumption that the common law applies unless the employment contract clearly limits that. If any ambiguity than attempt to contract out will fail. Here, employment the employment contract said would abide by the ESA. It did not say would abide by ESA and would be relieved of common law notice. It must say “we are abiding by ESA payments and the ESA payments will be in lieu of any parents would have received under common law.” There was ambiguity in this case so the contract failed.
How to Read a Case: