An essential component of a system based on precedent is one where these precedents are reported. Judgments from the superior courts (the High Court and the Supreme Court) are required by law to be in writing. This also applies to courts lower than the superior courts. Once a superior court has delivered a judgment, it is made available to the public.
Most countries, Zimbabwe included, have a system in which all judgments delivered by the superior courts are scrutinized by legal experts with a view to selecting some of them for publication in official law reports.
A judgment that is not selected for publication is described as ‘unreported’ and that which is published is described as ‘reported’. However, an unreported judgment has the same precedent value as a reported judgment. In Zimbabwe, the official series of reported judgments is called the Zimbabwe Law Reports. The decision as to which judgments are reported in the Zimbabwe Law Reports is made by a group of self-appointed editors.
A full law report usually includes the following details: names of the parties, the court in which the case was decided, name(s) of the judge(s), date or dates of hearing, list of cases discussed or cited, names of the lawyers, an indication of whether the judgment was reserved by the inclusion of the expression curia advisari vult (the court wishes to consider the matter) and a headnote (a summary of the decision which is prepared by the reporter). Zimbabwe has only one set of official law reports, but other countries have several sets.
A passage from Michael Zander’s The Law Making Process sums up the issue of the law reports in the following terms: One of the essential elements in a system based on precedent is some tolerably efficient method for making the precedents available to those wishing to discover the law. An unreported decision is technically of precisely the same authority as one that is reported, but decisions that are unreported have at least until very recently been more or less inaccessible to all but scholars. It is through law reporting that the common law is available to the profession and anyone else wishing to know the law.
- Lovemore Madhuku, , Library, Published: 15 March, 2010, Accessed: 29 September, 2020