The policy of the court to stand by precedent is termed as Stare decisis. In a literal sense, it means “to stand by decided matters”. The phrase “stare decisis” is itself short of the Latin phrase “stare decisis et non quieta movere”. This phrase means “to stand by decisions and not to disturb settled matters”.
Sources of Law – Concept of Stare Decisis
The doctrine of precedent refers to the doctrine that the court is to follow judicial decisions in earlier cases when the same points relating to the law are present before it in subsequent matters.
The concept of stare decisis furthers three primary goals. Firstly the doctrine promotes confidence amongst the citizens to plan their economic and social transactions.
It does this by providing them the confidence that they are in compliance with the law. It also encourages private settlement of the disputes as the court may infer its decision on the basis of this doctrine.
Secondly, it reduces the need to relitigate on the cases on which the judgment has already been passed. It discourages the rush of fresh litigation whenever a change in the judge/ bench occurs.
Third, it promotes public confidence in the judiciary as it reduces and puts constraints on the judges’ power. The doctrine helps the judges to judge in a predictable and non-chaotic manner.
Foundation of Stare Decisis
The guiding principle behind the doctrine of stare decisis is the maintenance of consistency and certainty. A good level of predictability, stability, and certainty is the need for the legal system. Precedent appeals to primary desires in a system of laws that is justified expectations of—rationality, regularity, and stability.
It satisfies that in case of all other things being equal, a legal system should resolve the matter in similarity irrespective of the different judiciary. It discourages successive relitigation of the issues that have already been authoritatively resolved.
The doctrine of stare decisis in India
The doctrine of stare decisis in its present form appears to not have existed in India during the pre-British era. Post-establishment of British rule in the country the concept of binding precedent came to be applicable in India.
Hierarchy of courts, as well as reporting of decisions, are the two preconditions for the doctrine of stare decisis. The Indian Constitution by way of Article 141 makes the ‘law declared’ by the Supreme Court binding on all courts within the territory in India.
Precedents and treatment by higher courts
For a case that has been earlier decided by a lower court the higher court can do the following:
Reverse: The decision and the initial decision will cease to have any effect
Overrule Wherein a later case a higher court decides that the decision on the first case is wrong. It overrules the decision of the lower court
Refusal to follow: Where the court cannot reverse or overrule the decision but does not wish to follow or refuses to follow the decision.
Distinguish: Where the material facts of the case differ and the principles decided in the precedence is too narrow to be properly applied to the new set of facts.
Exceptions or doctrine of prospective overruling:
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. The court may overrule a decision where it is recent or there is divided opinion.
Also, it can overrule a decision where the 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.
In a case of overruling the judgment of an earlier case, the re-opening of old disputes on the ground of a change in the legal position may arise. Consequently, a multiplicity of proceedings may also arise.
Solved Example on Stare Decisis
Question: Supreme Court has given a decision on the selection procedure for an examination. An individual Amar challenges the selection procedure of some other exam in a lower court. Will the decision of the Supreme court bind the lower court?
According to the doctrine of Stare decisis the lower court has to stand by the precedent. Also, it needs to decide the case in line with the earlier case if the facts of the case are similar. However, as the examination in respect of which the Supreme Court gave decision is not the same as the one for which Amar challenges in the lower court, the lower court can also give a decision otherwise.