In looking for information which may help your case, it is important to keep a balance between being open to new avenues of enquiry and focussing on the lines of enquiry most likely to find something useful.
It is easy to over-estimate the importance of information about what your opponent has done, or is alleged to have done, on other occasions with other people. For example if you have bought a car from a dealer which keeps breaking down, the fact that you have found out that someone else bought a different car from the same dealer, and that car also had problems, is not, without more, likely to be of any assistance in your case. The court/tribunal hearing your case will want evidence about what was wrong with your car (if that is disputed) and about the terms of the contract of sale which you entered into.
There are a few situations, however, where what your opponent has done, on other occasions, with other people, might be sufficiently probative to be useful to your case. For example if your opponent is a business which claims that something it did in its dealings with you (which is relevant to the outcome of your case) was not deliberate and the timing was pure co-incidence, and if it can be proved that such “co-incidences” happened in a number of previous similar instances with other people dealing with your opponent, that tends to undermine your opponent’s argument that it was pure co-incidence.
Take another example. There may be a dispute about whether the representative of a business you are in dispute with gave you a certain warning about something important (if the company should have warned you and you have suffered loss because they did not). You may have a clear recollection that the company did not inform you. The representative of the company will probably not have a very clear memory if the representative has dealt with hundreds of other customers since, and the company may have no actual evidence that its representative, on that specific occasion, did give you the warning. The company may claim, however, that it has a strict procedure and all company representatives are required to, and do, give the warning before the customer buys the product. If the company is relying on the fact, or alleged fact, that it has a strict procedure to try to prove that on this occasion (as on all other occasions) its representative would have given the warning, then proof that on other occasions, with other people, this representative, did not in fact give the relevant warning, tends to undermine your opponent’s argument that it does have a procedure which is strictly followed.
So these are two examples where what has happened to other people who dealt with your opponent on other occasions might be useful. However usually what happened to other people on other occasions turns out to not be sufficiently relevant to be useful, or may raise more questions than it answers, and, in most court or tribunal cases, the evidence presented to the court or tribunal consists only of much more direct evidence about the specific matters in dispute – i.e. the evidence of people directly involved and contemporaneous documents directly about the particular situation in dispute.
Some people think that if they can prove that their opponent lied in the past about some matter, not related to the case, that will show that they are a liar who should never be believed. However in the absence of a written admission by your opponent that they have lied (which would be unusual) proving that they have lied on a previous occasion involves showing what they said on a previous occasion, showing that it is untrue, and showing that they must have known that it was untrue at the time. Proving that would generally require witnesses, and the other side might allege that those witnesses have themselves, in the past, told lies and might want to use further witnesses to prove this. To prevent the court/tribunal process becoming too long and raising too many side issues, the courts and tribunals generally will not allow evidence that your opponent has lied on a previous occasion unless the lie has some connection with the case and/or the witnesses to the lie are already witnesses in the case for other reasons.
How much time (and money) you are prepared to spend extensively searching, beyond the obvious, on the off chance of finding something which might help your case, depends on how important winning the case is to you and on how much time you have available. There are a number of ways you can search, if you decide to do so. This page Sheet is concerned with one particular source of information, namely past court or tribunal cases.
The judgments in some cases are available free online at www.bailii.org However only a small proportion of the total number of cases decided by courts and tribunals each year appear on the BAILII website.
Some court/tribunal offices have an online system which you can use to search for cases and request copies of documents for a fee. https://efile.cefile-app.com/publicsearch/home is one example.
If the court/tribunal office which dealt with a case does not have a publicly available online system, you will need to go to the court/tribunal office and look at documents on the paper file. A fee is normally payable for a copy of a document from the file. Some court/tribunal offices may allow you to look at documents in a paper file free of charge and only charge if you require a copy of a document to take away. Others will only provide copies for a fee without you being able to see the document in advance.
The most useful documents you are likely to find on a file for a case are what are called "pleadings" in which the parties to the case set out what the case is about and what the key assertions of each party are. Pleadings are given different names. They may be called e.g. Applicant’s Statement of Case, Claim Form, Particulars of Claim, Defence, Reply to Defence, Defence and Counterclaim, Reply and Defence to Counterclaim, and Reply to Defence to Counterclaim.
The Claim Form, in a court case, contains the names and addresses of all the parties but usually only has a very short sentence or two stating the nature of the claim. More details of the case can be found in the other pleading documents. If, having read one or more of the pleading documents, it appears to you that something in the case might be relevant to your case, then the next document to look at might be the Judgment which gives the judge’s decision and his reasons. In many cases there is no written Judgment on file because the judge did not hand down his judgment in written form – it was simply announced orally. In this case, unless it is one of the small percentage of judgments available on BAILII, you would need to obtain a transcript of the judgment – i.e. pay for a transcriber to listen to the tape of proceedings and provide a written copy.
Even if there is no written judgment on the file, there should at least be an Order which simply says which party won the case and what was ordered (e.g. payment of a sum of money, an injunction ordering someone not to trespass on a piece of land, etc.).
Having found out initial information from the court or tribunal file in the case, if it looks as if it might be relevant to your own case, the next stage is to decide how to use the information in your own case, and ideally you should seek my advice about this. It is important to realise that it is not a simple matter of saying that the court or tribunal in the previous case has decided some fact, and so that is settled. You cannot rely directly on the judgment in the previous case if you were not a party to that case, so you may need to contact a witness in the previous case and ask if they will be a witness in your case. Or it may be that a witness in the previous case has a letter written to them by your opponent which is useful evidence. Alternatively if you want to rely on what your opponent said in a previous case at trial, you could use the witness statement of your opponent from the previous case if you can obtain a copy – the other side in the previous case, if you are contacting them, may have a copy: unfortunately witness statements are not always held on court/tribunal files. A witness statement is the start of the witness’ evidence at trial and will undoubtedly be supplemented by the witness being asked further questions by each side’s barristers and the judge so the only way to get a complete record of the witness’ evidence is to obtain a transcript of the audio recording of their evidence. You can ask me to advise you on how useful the information you have uncovered is and how it can be used.
The information on this page about specific computer techniques is provided for information purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date at the time it was written but no responsibility for its accuracy, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by me. You should satisfy yourself, before using any of the techniques, software or services described, that the techniques are appropriate for your purposes and that the software or service is reliable.
This page was lasted updated in November 2016 Disclaimer