Circumstances which Destroy the Binding Force of Judicial Precedents

Circumstances which Destroy the Binding Force of Judicial Precedents:

Once a decision is overruled by any subsequent ruling, it loses all its binding authority. But there are certain other circumstances which also destroy or weaken the binding force of judicial precedent in the partially or totally they are as follows:-

1) Ignorance of statute:

A precedent is not binding if it be rendered in ignorance of any statute or any other rule having the force of statute. It is also not binding if the court had the knowledge of the existence of the statute but it failed to appreciate its relevance to the matter in hand due to negligence or ignorance.

2) Inconsistency between earlier decision of higher court:

A precedent loses its binding force completely if it is inconsistent with the decision of a higher court. Thus the court of appeal in “Young V/s. Bristol Aeroplane Corporation Limited (1944) KB 718 (729)” observed that it is bound to follow its own previous decisions as well as those of court of co-ordinate jurisdiction. However the court is bound to refuse to follow a decision of its own, which do not expressly overruled, cannot, in its opinion, stand with the decision of the house of lords or if it finds that there is inconsistency between its earlier decision.

3) Inconsistency between early decision of the court of the same rank:

A court is not bound by its own earlier decisions which are conflicting with each other the conflict may arise due to inadvertence, ignorance or forgetfulness in not citing earlier decision before the court. In such a case the earlier decisions are not binding on the court.

4) Precedent sub silentio:

A decision is said to be sub silentio when the point of law involved in it is not fully argued or not perceived by the court. The decision in “Gerard vs worth of Paris limited (1936) 2 ALL ER 905 (CA)” is a good illustration to explain a Precedent sub silentio. In this case an employee who was discharged by the defendant company obtained damages for his wrongful dismissal against the company. He applied for a grainshee order on a bank account of the company which was in the name of liquidator. The only point argued was priority of claimant debt and the court of appeal granted the order. The question whether a grainshee order could be properly made on a account standing in the name of liquidator was never argued or considered by the court. Therefore when this very point was argued in a subsequent case before the court of appeal the court held itself not bound by the previous decisions as the point was sub silentio in the previous case.


5) Decision of equally divided court:

There may be cases where the judges of the appellate court are equally divided. In such a case practice is to dismiss the appeal and hold that the decision appealed against is correctly decided. But this problem does not arise now a days because benches are always constituted with an even number of judges. In India, however, where the judges in a Division Bench of a High court are equally divided, the practice is to refer the case to a third judge who is decision shall be treated as final unless it is set aside by the Supreme Court.


6) Dissenting judgments:

Most judicial decisions are an unanimous. But at time few judges may write or even note a dissent in the case in which they disagree with the majority. However, while judges are free to differ on judicial matter and interpretation of law in a case in hand but there is always an effort on the part of the majority to minimise or even eliminate dissent. The dissenting judgment do not in any way undermine the authority or authenticity of law because they provide scope to correct errors of law due to blindly following the doctrine of precedent. For instance, just take the question whether and to what extent freedom under the constitution should be interpreted to allow ‘live in relationship’ which has cropped up as a crucial social problem in India in recent decades. The society copes up, manages and out grows with such problems but rarely solves it. There is always a scope for dissent when such questions come up for adjudication before the higher Courts. Judges decide such issue on basis of their own life experiences and there is always an scope of possibility that a dissenting note of a particular judge may become a ratio in a case in future due to overruling of case wherein such dissent was recorded.

7) Erroneous decisions:

The decisions which are founded on misconceived principles or in conflict with the fundamental principles of law lose their binding force totally.

8) Abrogated decisions:

A decision cease to be binding if statute inconsistent with it is subsequently enacted. So also it ceases to be binding if it is reversed, overruled or abrogated. If a decision is wrong or irrational, it may be abrogated by a subsequent enactment or decision of a higher court.(This is expressed in latin maxim: “cessante ratione legis cessat ipsa lex”)

9) Affirmation or reversal on a different ground:

When higher court either affirms or reverses the judgment of the lower court on a ground different from that on which the judgment rests, the original judgment is not deprived of all the authority but the subsequent court may take a view that a particular point which the higher court did not touch, is rightly decided.

Author: vivek khandelwal,
Amity University Rajasthan, 2nd Year/ BBA.LL.B(Hons.)

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