Precedent and stare decisis are fundamental legal concepts with different meanings. A precedent is a court decision that functions as an example or guideline for similar cases in the future. When a court decides on a novel legal issue, that decision becomes a precedent that subsequent courts can use as a guide. Stare decisis, a Latin phrase meaning “to stand by things decided,” refers to the principle of adhering to or upholding precedents. It maintains stability and predictability in the law by encouraging courts to adhere to previous rulings, even if the judge believes they were incorrect. This guarantees the uniformity of legal decisions.
In essence, a precedent is a case that has been decided and guides future cases, whereas stare decisis is the process of maintaining and respecting these precedents. A court can decide a case without establishing a precedent if the case does not involve a new legal principle, but it is impossible to have stare decisis without precedent, as stare decisis depends on the existence of previous decisions.
What is Precedent?
Many legal systems are based on the idea of precedent. This is especially true in countries with common law histories, like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. It means a court ruling that sets a legal principle or rule that will help courts decide future cases with similar facts or issues. When a court decides in a case, it writes an opinion that explains the legal reasons behind the decision. This decision will then be used as a model for future cases. The idea is to make sure that the law is fair and consistent by handling similar cases in the same way.
Most of the time, higher courts like supreme courts or appellate courts set precedents, which smaller courts in the same jurisdiction have to follow. This means that when similar cases come up, the lesser courts must follow the example set by the higher courts. But sometimes a court will not follow a precedent. For example, if the precedent is out of date or if the situation has changed significantly. Most of the time, this is done by higher judges that can overturn their own past decisions. Even with these cases, the rule of precedent is still an important part of how the law works.
What is Stare Decisis?
The legal theory of “stare decisis” says that courts should follow the decisions made in similar cases in the past. The word comes from the Latin phrase “stare decisis et non quieta movere,” which means “stand by decisions and do not disturb the undisturbed.” It is a very important part of making the law system stable, predictable, and consistent.
Under the principle of stare decisis, once a court has decided on a certain problem, that decision is treated as a rule that must be followed in all future cases with the same legal question. Higher courts set standards that lower courts in the same area must follow. Usually, a court won’t overturn its precedents unless there is a very good reason to do so.
Stare decisis says that similar cases should be handled in the same way. This helps make sure that all cases and courts are treated fairly and in the same way. But this is not a hard and fast rule. Courts can sometimes go against it if they think a previous decision was wrong or out of date. This allows the legal system to grow and change as needed.
Difference Between Precedent and Stare Decisis
The legal notions of precedent and stare decisis are intertwined. A precedent is a judicial ruling that becomes binding in subsequent cases of the same type. It is essentially a case that has already been resolved and can be used as a precedent. In contrast, the principle of stare decisis requires courts to adhere to or follow these precedents, so promoting uniformity in judicial rulings. Stare decisis is the method or doctrine that encourages adherence to certain precedents, therefore precedent is the conclusion – the decided case. The “what” in this context can be thought of as precedent, and the “how” as stare decisis. Precedent and stare decisis are both important tenets of the law, but they serve distinct purposes. Eight significant variations are outlined below.
Stare decisis is a legal principle that requires courts to follow precedents set by earlier decisions on similar issues.
Stare decisis assures the consistent application of precedent to facilitate its intended purpose of guiding and informing future judicial decisions.
Stare decisis is the practice of upholding and honouring precedent, which is the status of a case that has already been resolved and may be utilised as a guiding principle.
Stare decisis is a theory or principle that mandates obedience to precedents, which serve as rules or examples.
For stare decisis to work, there must be precedents, yet precedents can exist even if stare decisis isn’t used.
In contrast to precedent, which is established through judicial decisions, stare decisis is an established judicial practice that must be adhered to.
Stare decisis is a principle that discourages but does not forbid deviation from established precedents, and precedents can be overruled by higher courts if they are found to be erroneous or out of date.
A precedent may be limited to a single instance or it may apply to broader legal ideas. However, the principle of stare decisis guides the general regard and application of precedents by courts.