If narrowed too soon, just claims are denied. If narrowed too late, unjust delay and expense results. If never narrowed, decisions are not according to law.
Lawsuits apply law to facts to determine right and resolve disputes. They have two objects: to decide what to decide and to decide. The problem is that applying law to facts is an interdependent process. Without knowing facts, courts cannot know which law applies. Without knowing which law applies, courts cannot know which facts are material. All systems of civil justice confront this problem; some have reached workable solutions.
Here is what legal systems have done to address this problem:
Statutory syllogisms define the elements of the claim
Statutory syllogisms define clearly elements of claims. Then courts can more quickly determine which law applies and more easily address material facts. As useful a solution as this is for many cases, it is only partial. Even the best drafting is constrained by limited ability to prescribe abstract rules to govern future conduct.
Pleadings (written statements) give the gist of the case
The parties’ pleadings (written statements) are informative and not merely formal. They guide courts and promote prompt identification and resolution of issues. If, however, they are used to limit consideration of issues prematurely, they can deny just claims.
Courts discuss cases with parties early and often
Before courts take evidence they meet with parties to discuss which laws might apply and which elements might be material.
Courts know the law and guide evidence taking
Courts take evidence only on application of the parties. They take evidence only to determine facts that are material and in dispute.
Courts decide no issues before their time
Courts make tentative decisions to facilitate process, but hold off final decision until the day of the last oral hearing.
Courts explain their decisions in reasoned opinions
In reasoned opinions judges justify why they decided as they did and why they did not accept the arguments, evidence and offers of evidence of defeated parties. If this is not part of the procedure, parties have little assurance that the court has given them a meaningful day in court.
No one of these solutions is complete in itself, but all can contribute to a complete solution. Other measures may be used to moderate the extent of fact-finding without intolerably limiting the scope of inquiry:
- Allocation of costs of fact-finding.
- Voluntary prioritization of fact-finding