Why are there no headnotes?

Justis provides access to court judgments, major and specialist reports. For court judgments, these are court transcripts and therefore there are no headnotes, with the exception of the Irish JIC database where we produce these in-house.

Headnotes remain an important resource for practitioners. However, the practice began nearly two centuries ago to address the needs of that time. Headnotes are limited by their very purpose – to provide a static interpretation of a case created by an editor at the time of reporting – and are only produced for a small percentage of judgments.

Advancements in technology can be used to offer additional information which can help practitioners with legal research in more demanding times. A key benefit of better technology is that you can navigate an even greater body of content effectively.

The key passages tool on Justis offers an example. You can establish how a case has been subsequently quoted, see key extracts of a case based on the most cited passages and identify which key points from the case are of most relevance – at present day.

As cases are used over time, specific points of note or the interpretation of a particular point may change, as well as the social and political circumstances of the time. The means the headnote becomes less relevant than at the time of publication. There are many examples available on Justis where the original headnote no longer aligns with how the case is interpreted today.

Of course, key passages cannot replace headnotes in summarising a case, however, the alternative benefits are equally, if not more important.

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