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Judicial Precedent

Judicial Precedent

Judicial precedent is the following of legal principles laid down in previously decided cases. The doctrine of judicial precedent is based on the principle of stare decisis, which means ‘stand by what has already been decided’. In England and Wales, this doctrine leads to the idea of binding precedent, which operates so that:

  • lower courts must follow decisions of higher courts;

  • appeal courts are normally bound by their own past decisions.

The fact that appeal courts are normally bound by their own past decisions is based on the idea that there should be certainty in the law. However, it is argued that if all courts are bound, then there is no room for the law to change with society. Also, if an error was made by the House of Lords, the judges could not change that mistake in a later case. The problems led to different rules being developed for the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal in the past.

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