LAW OF PRECEDENTS – (Short Notes)

By Sri Y.Srinivasa Rao, Research Scholar (Ph.D)., Principal Senior Civil Judge

TABLE OF CONTENTS:-

  1. Precedent
  2. Ratio decidendi
  3. Sub silentio
  4. Overruling
  5. Distinguishing
  6. Reversal of judgment
  7. Stare Decisis
  8. Obiter dictum

Precedent:—

 Article 141 of the Constitution of India:— — Broadly speaking, every judgment of superior courts has three segments, namely, (i) the facts and the point at issue; (ii) the reasons for the decision and (iii) the final order containing the decision. The reasons for the decision or the ratio decidendi is not the final order containing the decision. In fact, in a judgment of the Supreme Court, though the ratio decidendi may point to a particular result, the decision (final order relating to relief) may be different and not a natural consequence of the ratio decidendi of the judgment. This may happen either on account of any subsequent event or the need to mould the relief to do complete justice in the matter. It is the ratio decidendi of a judgment and not the final order in the judgment, which forms a precedent, Sanjay Singh v. U.P. Public Service Commission(2007) 3 SCC 720: (2007) 1 SCC (L&S) 870. 
Authorities or examples to be followed by courts of justice. Each of the three superior Courts of Common Law was by the practice of the law bound to follow a decision of its own or of either of the others on a point of law and decision of its own on a point of practice. The term ‘precedents’ is also used to designate the collections of pleadings, such as Bullen and Leake’s Precedents of Pleading or of forms of wills, settlements, leases, mortgages and other documents in ordinary use which are made and published from time to time as models which a practitioner can safely follow after adaptation so far as necessary to his own particular case. [Whart.]

Ratio decidendi:—

 The point in a case which determines the judgment.  The ratio decidendi of a judgment has to be found out only on reading the entire judgment. In fact, the ratio of the judgment is what is set out in the judgment itself. A judgment, it is trite, is not to be read as a statute. The ratio decidendi of a judgment is its reasoning which can be deciphered only upon reading the same in its entirety. The ratio decidendi of a case or the principles and reasons on which it is based is distinct from the relief finally granted or the manner adopted for its disposal, Islamic Academy of Education v. State of Karnataka(2003) 6 SCC 697. 3. The ground of decision. [Cy. Law Dict.]

Sub silentio:—

A decision passes sub silentio in the technical sense that has come to be attached to that phrase, when the particular point of law involved in the decision is not perceived by the court or present to its mind, State of U.P. v. Synthetics and Chemicals Ltd.(1991) 4 SCC 139

Overruling:— “Overrule” means to set aside the authority of a former decision. Overruling assumes that a contrary decision is given on the same facts or law. Where the law, has been changed and is no longer the same, there is no question of the legislature overruling the court, National Agricultural Coop. Mktg. Federation of India Ltd. v. Union of India(2003) 5 SCC 23.

Distinguishing:— to point out an essential difference; to prove a case, cited as applicable, inapplicable.

Reversal of Judgment:— Generally, “Reverse” means to undo, repeal or make void. A judgment might have been reversed without a writ of error, for matters foreign to or dehors the record.

Stare Decisis:—

The principle of stare decisis is thus stated in Halsbury’s Laws of England, 2nd Edn.: “Apart from any question as to the courts being of coordinate jurisdiction, a decision which has been followed for a long period of time and has been acted upon by persons in the formation of contracts or in the disposition of their property or in the general conduct of affairs or in legal procedure or in other ways, will generally be followed by courts of higher authority than the court establishing the rule, even though the court before whom the matter arises afterwards might not have given the same decision had the question come before it originally. But the supreme appellate court will not shrink from overruling a decision or series of decisions, which establish a doctrine plainly outside the statute and outside the common law, when no title and no contract will be shaken, no person can complain and no general course of dealing be altered by the remedy of a mistake.” The same doctrine is thus explained in Corpus Juris Secundum: “Under the stare decisis rule a principle of law which has become settled by a series of decisions generally is binding on the courts and should be followed in similar cases. This rule is based on expediency and should be strictly adhered to by the courts it is not universally applicable. The Corpus Juris Secundum however, adds a rider that “previous decisions should not be followed to the extent that grievous wrong may result; and accordingly the courts ordinarily will not adhere to a rule or principle established by previous decisions which they are convinced is erroneous. The rule of stare decisis is not so imperative or inflexible as to preclude a departure therefrom in any case, but its application must be determined in each case by the discretion of the court and previous decisions should not be followed to the extent that error may be perpetuated and grievous wrong may result”, Maktul v. Manbhari, AIR 1958 SC 918: 1959 SCR 1099. 

 To abide by authorities or cases already adjudicated upon. Stare decisis is a well-known doctrine in legal jurisprudence. The doctrine of stare decisis, meaning to stand by decided cases, rests upon the principle that law by which men are governed should be fixed, definite and known and that, when the law is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction authorised to construe it, such declaration, in absence of palpable mistake or error, is itself evidence of the law until changed by competent authority. It requires that rules of law when clearly announced and established by a court of last resort should not be lightly disregarded and set aside but should be adhered to and followed. What it precludes is that where a principle of law has become established by a series of decisions, it is binding on the courts and should be followed in similar cases. It is a wholesome doctrine which gives certainty to law and guides the people to mould their affairs in the future, Sakshi v. Union of India(2004) 5 SCC 518: 2004 SCC (Cri) 1645.

Obiter dictum:—

The meaning given in Black’s Law Dictionary, of term ‘obiter dictum’ relied upon by Supreme Court viz.: “as a judicial comment made while delivering a judicial opinion, but one that is unnecessary to the decision in the case and therefore not precedential (although it may be considered persuasive). An ‘obiter dictum’ is a remark made or opinion expressed by a judge, in his decision upon a cause, ‘by the way’ that is, incidentally or collaterally and not directly upon the question before the court; or it is any statement of law enunciated by the judge or court merely by way of illustration, argument, analogy or suggestion.”, Arun Kumar Aggarwal v. State of M.P.(2014) 13 SCC 707, 716 (Para 27). 

A saying by the way, an opinion of a judge not necessary to the judgment given of record, in contradistinction to a judicial dictum, which is necessary to the judgment. An “obiter dictum” as distinguished from a ratio decidendi is an observation by the Court on a legal question suggested in a case before it but not arising in such manner as to require a decision. Such an obiter may not have a binding precedent but it cannot be denied that it is of considerable weight, Director of Settlements v. M.R. Apparao(2002) 4 SCC 638.

Law of Precedents

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