Legal Maxim

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Literal Meaning

To stand by things decided/ doctrine of precedent

Origin

Latin

It is short term of the Latin phrase ‘stare decisis et non quieta movere’ which means ‘to stand by decisions and not to disturb settled matters’.

The doctrine is the foundation of the American common law system.

Explanation

It is a doctrine or policy of following rules or principles laid down in previous judicial decisions unless they contravene the ordinary principles of justice. In general, it is the doctrine under which courts adhere to precedent on questions of law in order to ensure certainty, consistency, and stability in the administration of justice and to prevent the perpetuation of injustice. It is simply a principle or an instruction, but it’s not necessarily a rule that cannot ever be broken.

The past decisions are known as a precedent which is a legal principle or rule that is created by a court decision. The precedent becomes an example, or authority, for judges while deciding similar issues later. Thus, Stare decisis is the doctrine that obligates courts to look to precedent when making their decisions. To serve as a precedent for a pending case, a prior decision must have almost the same question of law and almost the same facts. It reduces the need to relitigate on the cases on which the judgment has already been passed by a higher authority/ higher court of law i.e. High Court or Supreme Court.

Article 141 of the Indian Constitution makes the ‘law declared’ by the Supreme Court binding on all courts within the territory in India. However, although the courts follow the principle of precedent in the normal course, the higher forums may overrule the decisions that may be erroneous or which do not hold good in view of the new circumstance. A decision can also be overruled where such a decision is unclear, vague, cause inconvenience and hardship or the error in the prior decision cannot be easily rectified by the legislative process. Once overruled, an earlier decision is no longer a binding precedent.

Case Laws

In Bengal Immunity Co. vs. the State of Bihar, the court observed that there is nothing in the Indian constitution that prevent the Supreme Court from departing from its own previous decision if it is convinced of its error and baneful effect on public interest. In so far as high court are concerned, the decisions of a High Court are binding on all subordinate courts within the jurisdiction of the High Court.

In the State of Gujarat vs. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab, the Supreme Court observed that while stare decisis is ordinarily to be adhered to, precedents can be reconsidered in view of changed circumstances where there are compelling reasons to do so. Thus, while the doctrine of stare decisis should generally be adhered to, the same should not be interpreted in a manner as to hinder the development of law and the correction of erroneous decisions. At the same time, the power to reconsider decisions cannot be given forum and thus, it is appropriate that the power remains with higher forums to the court that rendered the decision.