This essay will examine the doctrine of Judicial precedent that helps form the English Legal System. It will illustrate various views that have been raised by Judges and relating cases to the use of ‘Stare decisis’ when creating precedents. In addition it will discuss how the developments in the powers of the courts now also allow them to depart from these precedents to an extent.
The doctrine of Judicial precedent applies the principles of stare decisis which ‘lets the decision stand’. ‘Whenever a new problem arises in law the final decision forms a rule to be followed in all similar cases, making the law more predictable’ making it easier for people to live within the law.
An original precedent is where a point of law is decided for the first time. This was illustrated in Donoghue v Stevenson where there was a decomposing snail in a bottle of ginger beer. The House of Lords set a precedent that manufacturers owe a duty of care to customers in the law of negligence.
A key factor of judicial precedents usually refers to decisions of a higher court being binding upon a lower court in the hierarchical structure of the courts. This is best illustrated in Donoghue v Stevenson . However, if the previous decision was made by a court of equal or higher status to the court deciding the new case, then the Judge should follow the rule of law set in the earlier case. These are known as Binding precedents.
The courts access these previous judgements through the system of Law reporting. The system of precedents could not work without a precise and comprehensive compilation of the key decisions of superior courts readily available to all who need them. Authoritative reports compiled by legally qualified law reporters are formed prima...
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... law to be developed without need for lengthy litigation. Nonetheless, a change in law needs to be brought before the relevant court. This usually means litigants for the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords do not necessarily have the means to take their cases that far.
In conclusion, the doctrine of judicial precedent has been accepted to form our legal system, through the use of binding precedents. It has helped the law maintain certainty yet through flexibility of the courts and exceptions to depart from precedents the law has continued to develop in a just manner.
Penny Darbyshire, Darvyshire on the English Legal System, Ninth edition.
Terence Ingman, The English Legal Process, Eleventh edition.
Catherine Elliott Frances Quinn, English Legal System, Seventh edition.
Gary Slapper and Davis Kelly, The English Legal System, Tenth edition.