Importance of Precedents in Legal Reasoning



· Each court decision is meant to be supported an earlier decision, which is named “precedent.” Precedents are a choice of a court which is additionally called judicial decisions. To point out that your constitutional rights are violated, you point to good court decisions in earlier cases and describe how the facts in those cases are almost like the facts in your case.

· The main function of Judiciary is to interpret the law and to guard the rights of the people by giving decision arisen out of any conflict. Judges never make a law. It’s the Legislature who makes the law and performance of judges is to use the law to the facts and substances as where ahead of them. Within the matters of interpretation or filling up the gap with in the law made by Parliament the Judges to some extent depend upon their sense of right and wrong and in doing so Judges are the manufacturers of law not discovers of law. Sometimes act could also be insufficient for the case or there could also be a vacuum or any thing missing within the act. Under these circumstances the Court can apply their own mind and interpret the law. These independent decisions becomes precedents which are followed afterward by an equivalent and lower courts. This method of decision is additionally called as judge made law.

· Precedents play vital role to reshape the society and while delivering judgements if the same issue pertains it will be easy for the Judges to deliver judgement.

Importance of Precedents in Modern Legal System

· Most of the branches of law are developed by judges like Law of tort it’s not codified law. It’s supported the decided cases by the Judges only. Within the Britain the constitution has evolved over a period of the many centuries, instead of being drafted during a prescribed time. The Constitutional Law of England, especially the liberty of the citizens, developed through judicial decisions. Britain doesn’t have codified Constitution only have unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments. It’s development by court judgements and it’s still prevailing.

· Not only within the municipal law but in law of nations also, the precedents have their importance. The choices of the International Court of Justice are a crucial source of law of nations.

· These precedents are recognized by the International Court of Justice by Article 38(2)(d) of the Statue of the International Court of Justice. Further, Article 59 of an equivalent holds that the choices of the court only have persuasive value for future cases and hence the International Court of Justice isn’t bound by its own decisions choose similar cases in future. It holds that the choice is merely binding the parties to the case.

· This brief Introduction shows how precedents play important role in development of law in society and the way useful is precedents at municipal level also as international level.

Kinds of Precedents

1. Authoritative Precedent

· Authoritative Precedent are binding upon the Judges who interpret the law they are regarding as a legal source of law. Authoritative Precedents establish law in pursuance of definite rule of law which confers upon them that effect. The authoritative Precedents must be followed by the Judges whether they approve of them or not.

Example: decisions of the Supreme Court is binding on all courts.

2. Persuasive Precedents

· The precedents which the court’s are not bound to follow, though they may be taking into consideration while giving judgements. The Persuasive Precedents can merely persuade the Judge but it is up to the judge to follow them or not. Decision of high court in the country is authoritative precedent within the jurisdiction of high court but outside the decision of that high court are not authoritative but only guiding or persuasive.

Example: Foreign Judgements

Advantage of Precedents

· It enables the judges to reshape the law according to the requirements. Precedent results in concrete problem which actually arose in particular case. Which give rise to practical law whereas law enacted by Legislature which is based on assumption and imagination.

· Once the case is decided people know it with certainty as to what would be the ruling in a similar case. Which arises in future. Therefore, precedents helps people to know the intricate principles of the law to a considerable extent.

· Precedents provide flexibility to law to adopt itself to new situation and social conditions. The case law relating to right to property in India from Shankri Prasad [1] to Minerva Mills [2]decision and changes judicial trend in this regard sufficiently illustrate the point.

The Supreme Court in Minerva Mills Ltd. Vs UOI[3]observed :

“certainty and continuity ate two essential ingredients of the rule of law. Certainty in the applicability of law would be considerably eroded and suffer a serious set-back, if the highest court in the land readily overrule the view expressed by it in the field for a number of years. It would create uncertainty, instability and confusion if the law propounded by this court on the faith of which numerous cases have been decided and many transaction have taken place, is held to be not correct law after a number of years.”

Ratio Decidendi

· The term ratio decidendi literally means reason of the decision. It is the general principle which is deduced in a case. In other words, ratio decidendi is the rule of law upon which the decision is founded.

· It is well established the doctrine of precedent pre-suppose existence of the hierarchy of the courts. The general rule is that the lower courts are bound by the the decisions of the higher courts.

· In India, all High courts of states are bound by the decision of the Supreme Court and all subordinate courts are bound by the decision of the High court.

Obitar Dicta

· Pronouncement of law, which are not part of the ratio decidendi are called as obiter dicta and they are not binding on subordinate courts.

· Obitar dicta literally means something said by the judge in a way which does not have any binding authority.

· In the course of judgement, a judge may make various observation which are not precisely relevant to the issue before him. For instance he may illustrate his reasoning by reference to hypothetical situation.

· Distinction between obiter dicta and a ratio decidendi has been explained by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Director of Settlements, A.P. v. M.R.Apparao [4] case.

Relevant case law :

· The following case laws illustrate the significance of judicial precedents in the Indian Legal System.

1. T. Sareetha vs T. Venkata Subbaiah, AIR 1983 AP 356

2. Saroj Rani V/s Sudarshan Kumar , AIR 1984 SC 1562.


· No doubt that a Judge can only to Explain or to interprets the existing laws but at the same time he also creates the new ideas, thoughts and gives new touch ideas which play an important role in the development of law. In India Supreme Court under Article 141 says that “The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all the Courts within the territory of India “


1] Shankri Prasad v. UOI, AIR 1951 SC 458. [2] Minerva Mills v. UOI, AIR 1980 SC 1789. [3] Ibid. [4 ]A.P. v. M.R.Apparao AIR 2002 SC 1598.


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