WHAT IS PRECEDENT?
Precedents refer to previously decided cases which are now viewed as set principles. Precedents are very helpful in determining cases with similar facts or having the same circumstances. It also helps to maintain equality, uniformity or consistency. It increases the efficiency of court while deciding cases and saves time as well as money. It also gives a universal sense of justice as all cases with similar facts and circumstances would be treated in the same manner.
Precedents are commonly known as Stare Decisis in Britain. Stare Decisis literally means to stand by what has already been decided. This doctrine is recognized in Article 141 of the Indian Constitution. A hierarchical relation is needed to be taken into consideration while deciding whose decisions are binding on whom. In the Indian context, the decision of the Supreme Court is binding upon High Courts and the decision of the High Court is binding on its respective district courts.
Further Precedents can be divided into two types,
Original Precedent: It establishes a new rule
Declaratory Precedent: It is a mere application of previous set principle or rule
Precedent is not in a binding nature if it is inconsistent with the existing statutory law of the country. Moreover, the court is not bound to follow its own decision of a previously decided case.
A precedent has two parts in it,
Ratio Decidendi, and Obiter Dicta
Let us discuss each part in detail.
Precedent gives us two things: observations and decisions based on some reasoning or logic. Judge is bound by the principle of previous cases on which decision was based. These principles or rule of law are termed as Ratio Decidendi. It holds the authority for the upcoming cases. It tells the reason or logic of coming to the conclusion. It establishes a principle that can be used in cases with similar facts and circumstances. They are binding in nature in a hierarchical order which we have already discussed in the above part.
Observations made by the judge during the course of judgment is called obiter dicta. It doesn’t play an essential role in arriving at the decision. It is neither binding in nature. It may hold persuasive value and contain less authority when compared to Ratio Decidendi.
Author Details: Dikshi Arora (B.A. LL.B Student, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala)