Doctrine of Stare Decisis

DOCTRINE OF STARE DECISIS

Introduction

Imagine that a decision has been given by Superior Court; Will that decision have any effect on inferior court? Yes obviously, this is what stare decisis is. Stare Decisis is a legal principle which means courts cannot contravene Precedents. They must uphold prior decisions. Many legal systems have included this doctrine in their legal structure. Simply, the old case laws are called precedents and the way by which this case law is made to follow is called stare decisis.

Meaning

The term Stare Decisis is of Latin origin which means “to stand by decided matters”. This is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “stare decisis et non quieta movere” which translates as “to stand by decisions and not to disturb settled matters”. This means that a question which has been answered by the court should get the same response every next time. In more easy sense the lower court is bound by the decisions pronounced by the higher court provided that the lower court falls within the jurisdiction of that higher court, otherwise it will have only persuasive value. Till 17th century there was no concept of Stare Decisis. It was in 1833 the Case Mire house v Rennel, in this case it was decided that they should start recording these decisions so that the lower court might get benefit from it. From this case onwards judgments began to get recorded and stare decisis originated.

The principle which says that the decisions of Higher Court are binding on the lower court is called Vertical Stare Decisis whereas the decisions of the court would be binding on coequal benches is called Horizontal Stare Decisis.

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Prerequisites

In order to have applicability of Doctrine of Stare Decisis, there are two conditions which needs to be fulfilled. The first one is that there must be proper and authentic reporting of decisions of court. This is required so that Judges can have reference of these previous decided cases. The other condition which needs to be fulfilled is that there must be a clear established hierarchy of the Courts.

Position in India

We cannot find any traces of Doctrine of stare decisis in ancient and medieval India. It was only after advent of British this doctrine came into existence in India. Hierarchy of courts was established with the setting up of Sardar Diwani Adalats and Supreme Courts at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Later Government of India Act 1935 clearly stated that decisions of the federal court and Privy Council binds on all courts of British India. Even after Independence doctrine of Precedents continued to follow. This doctrine has been clearly recognized in Indian Constitution. Article 141 of the Indian Constitution clearly says that law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all the courts within the territory of India. It is worth noting that Supreme Court is not bound by its own previous decisions. In a very famous case of Bengal Immunity Company v State of Bihar, apex court clearly said that there is nothing in the Constitution which objects Supreme Court from not following its own decisions. If Supreme Court is convinced that its previous decision contains error and has bad effect on Public Interest, this court is free to correct it. In the case of ITO Tuticorin v TSD Nadar, circumstances in which power of overrule is to be exercised were defined. It was held that “the decisions of the court should not be overruled except under circumstances which compel them to do so…every time the court overrules its previous decision, the confidence of the public in the soundness of decision of this court is bound to be shaken…decisions of this court should be confined to questions of great public importance”. High courts cannot overrule the decisions given by the Supreme Court. In the Case of Sunganthi Suresh v Jagdeesham, Supreme Court stated that High Court cannot set aside the decision given by the Supreme Court merely on the ground that the decision stated by the Supreme Court laid down principles without considering any of the legal point. Coming on to the part of High Court, the decisions of a High court are binding on all the courts within the jurisdiction of High Court. In the very famous case of Pandurang kalu Patil v State of Maharashtra, Supreme Court said that the decisions of High Court will be binding on its jurisdiction until the apex court overrules them.

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Important Case Laws

  • Bengal Immunity Co. v. State of Bihar, AIR 1955 SC 661 In this case it was held by the Supreme Court that there is nothing in the constitution which prevents this court from setting aside the previously held decision, If there was an error previously.
  • Golanath v. State of Punjab, AIR 1967 SC 1643 In this case Supreme Court reversed its previous decision and held that fundamental rights cannot be amended through Article 368 of Indian Constitution.
  • Manganese ore (India) Ltd. V Regional Asstt. CST, (1976) 4 SCC 124 It was held that the doctrine of stare decisis is very important principle of precedent and cannot be set aside until there are any extraordinary reasons for it.

Merits of Stare Decisis

  • Certainty: This doctrine brings certainty in law. If the courts do follow the precedents and starts deciding and determining issues every time afresh without considering the previous decisions law will definitely become uncertain. A good Justice System should have certainty in it.
  • Saves Time and Resources: It is well decided fact that question which has been decided should be settled and should not be subject to any re argument in every case. It will surely save the labor of the judges and lawyers. Thus it saves time and resources.
  • Flexibility: Although Stare Decisis says that court has to follow the precedents but in the same time this principle allows room to overturn previous decisions and make new ones. This let law to get evolved with the changing period of time.
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Demerits of Stare Decisis

  • Rigidity: There are times when stare decisis brings flexibility in the law but sometimes it is hard to overrule previous erroneous decisions. This might set a bad example for the society.
  • Dilemma: Sometimes various conflicting decisions of the Superior court might put the judge of the lower court in the dilemma. There is a provision that the lower court should choose between the two conflicting decisions of the superior court. This makes law uncertain in nature.

Conclusion

Legislature provides statutes and enactments which lay down general rules; it is the court which has the final authority to interpret those laws. Doctrine of Stare Decisis ensures that there is uniformity and certainty in the existing law. It also saves a large amount of time and workload. Coming on to India article 141 of the constitution clearly upholds this doctrine. There are certain case laws which have interpreted this article and gave friendlier look of it.

Author: Dheeraj Diwakar,
Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow 1st year

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