So, what is ‘Law’ really?
The law can be defined as a body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by a controlling authority, and having binding legal force/ authority. Law is an instrument which regulates human conduct/behaviour.
Law essentially means Justice, Morality, Reason, Order, and Righteous from the point of view of the society. Law also means Statutes, Acts, Rules, Regulations, Orders, and ordinances from the point of view of the legislature.
It has also been considered as a social construct that defines the extent of people’s rights and duties towards their nation.
Here are some of the definitions of law by popular jurists of their time:
According to Austin:
“A law is a command which obliges a person or persons to a course of conduct"
According to Salmond:
“The law may be defined as the body of principles recognized and applied by the State in the administration of Justice”.
Here are the four major types of law in the Indian Judicial System:
1. Criminal Law
This is a set of laws that takes cognizance of crimes committed by individuals in society. These set of laws are enforced by the police and adjudicated upon by Magistrates, the Court of Sessions, the High Court and the Supreme Court. Crimes are not taken up against an individual but against the State itself (as it is viewed as a hindrance to the harmony existing in society i.e. a social pathology).
For example: Murdering someone leads to a penalty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code with punishment by death, life imprisonment or fine or both.
2. Civil Law
This is a set of laws that deal with actions that aren’t a crime. It is a part of the law dealing with disputes between organizations and people. It covers different areas similar to defamation, custody of youngsters, proper training, divorce, commerce union membership, property disputes, possession points, insurance coverage claims etc.
3. Common Law
Common law is a body of unwritten laws based on legal precedents established by the courts. Common law influences the decision-making process in unusual cases where the outcome cannot be determined based on existing statutes or written rules of law.
For example: In adjudicating upon matters under the Indian Contract Act, the courts consider common law doctrines and allow case precedents that are held under the aegis of the Privy Council or the House of Lords in England.
Also, in Indian Trademark Law (Trademarks Act, 1999), the doctrine of prior use is incorporated from the existing common law rights of a proprietor.
4. Statutory Law
Statute or Statutory Law is a law established by an act of the legislature that’s signed by the Executive or Legislative body. For State law, the Acts are handled by the state legislature and signed by the State governor. In rare circumstances, the Chief (President or Governor) could refuse to assent the law or reject it, which is similar to the ‘veto’ power.
For example The Indian Contract Act of 1872, The Finance Act, of 2020, GST Act, of 2017.
How research gets added to the mix
Research is defined as the careful consideration of study regarding a particular concern or problem using scientific methods.
Legal research has been defined as a process of finding the law that governs an activity and materials that explain or analyse that law.
Legal research includes various processes ranging from information gathering to analysing the facts of a problem and communicating the investigation results. It is the amalgamation of scientific methods (pertaining to the study of data) and the law to make the latter better and more efficient for society.
A research problem can be simply defined as a problem which a researcher wants to solve or analyse and get valuable insights on. Post the indentification of "problem", generally a Hypothesis follows.
Now, what is a Hypothesis?
A Hypothesis can be defined as an idea formed beforehand which has less value than the generally formed view about a particular problem.
A hypothesis is a specific, clear, and testable proposition or predictive statement about the possible outcome of a scientific research study based on a particular property of a population, such as presumed differences between groups on a particular variable or relationships between variables.
According to Robert A Berslein and James A Dryer:
“A hypothesis is an assertion of the causal association between two properties”
Importance of Hypothesis in Legal Research:
A hypothesis gives a point of enquiry i.e. a starting point in delving into a particular research problem. In the absence of a hypothesis, a researcher is a lost ship on a wide sea without a navigation system.
Hypothesis helps a researcher in deciding the direction of the study and helps him formulate the required materials for the same.
Hypothesis provides precision to a research problem.
A hypothesis helps in drawing relevant and specific conclusions to a study.
A hypothesis helps in identifying the nature of the research and its extent.
Hypothesis helps in the collection and analysis of data by equipping the researcher with the input of “what to look for”.
The two major ways to put a hypothesis to the test
The Case study method
A case study is a research method that involves an up-close, in-depth and detailed investigation of a subject of study and its related contextual position. They can be produced following a form of research.
A case study helps in bringing the understanding of a complex issue or object. It can extend experience or add strength to the existing knowledge through previous research. Their contextual analysis revolves around a limited number of events or conditions and how they relate.
Therefore, a case study is a research method which allows a person to understand why and how to investigate questions. Here, a researcher has no control over variables, especially in situations when the case is current. In a studied case, many additional factors affect the phenomenon and can be described or analysed only by a case study.
In legal research, a case study can be used for many purposes as it allows the capacity to describe different factors and interactions with each other in real contexts. It offers various learning opportunities and experiences by influencing the different practices of theories.
For researchers, it is considered a valuable data source in terms of the diversity and complexity of educational purposes and settings. It plays a significant role in putting theories into regular practice. It is always important for the student to understand the clarity in nature and focus of the case study.
The importance of case study in research:
Major aspects of a problem can be understood and analysed easily. The results can be then presented comprehensively.
Case studies help secure a wealth of details about a unit of study and the techniques that can be used to research a similar problem. The data and direction of research can be adopted or modified to enter a new domain of a problem.
Case studies help researchers arrive at the actual human experience and attitudes which constitute the full and actual reality of a problem.
A case study is a suitable method when the problem under study forms a process rather than one isolated incident.
Case studies are regarded as scientific as they are conducted by analysing historical/empirical data about a problem.
The Questionnaire Method
A questionnaire is a research instrument that consists of a set of questions or other types of prompts that aims to collect information from a respondent. It is essentially one of the primary methods of data collection for the investigation of research problems.
Lundberg defines a questionnaire as
“a set of stimuli to which literal people are exposed to observe their behaviour under these stimuli”
According to Bogardus: A questionnaire is
“A list of questions sent to several persons for their answers and which contains standardised results that can be tabulated and treated statistically”
Types of Questionnaires:
Pauline V. Young (PV Young) classified questionnaires into:
1. Structured Questionnaires: These include pre-coded questions with well-defined skipping patterns to follow the sequence of questions. Most of the quantitative data collection operations use structured questionnaires.
As per PV young:
"Structured questionnaires are those which pose definitive, concrete and pre-oriented questions i.e. they are prepared in advance and not constructed on the spot during the questioning period”
This type of questionnaire can be categorized into further two types:
Closed-form: A questionnaire that has few alternative answers (like a yes/no, true/false)
Open-ended: A questionnaire that provides the answerer with the freedom to express his opinion without an endpoint. This method is used primarily for intensive studies.
2. Unstructured Questionnaire: These include open-ended and vague opinion-type questions. Some of them may be questions that are not in the format of interrogative sentences and the moderator or the enumerator has to elaborate on the sense of the question. Focus group discussions use such a questionnaire.
This type assumes insight, articulateness, and fact possession and aims for precision to attain maximum information regarding a particular problem. Because it is flexible, this is one of the most common types of questionnaires used by modern lawmakers.
The Distinction between Questionnaire and a normal Interview:
A questionnaire is self-administered whereas, in an interview, an interviewer needs to conduct the proceeding.
A questionnaire is geared at collecting data from literate people who can comprehend the questions whereas, interviews are admissible to both literates and illiterates as the interviewer acts as a medium.
The rate of response is poor in questionnaires whereas, in interviews, people generally answer the questions then and there.
The questionnaire method is less expensive to administer whereas, interviews are generally expensive and hard to conduct.
Questionnaires provide anonymity to the answerers whereas, in interviews, there is an absence of complete anonymity.