Legal precedents are guidelines a court can use when adjudicating similar cases. This can be done through various techniques, such as the doctrine of stare decisis.
Precedent is the principle that courts should apply law uniformly across similar cases, without regard to any judge’s personal views. This principle of precedent is an essential tenet of the rule of law and many judges believe it guarantees individuals in similar situations receive equal treatment.
Precedents can be divided into two categories: binding and persuasive. Lower courts must adhere to both types of precedents: those decided by a higher court are considered binding, while those established by lower courts have persuasive power.
In some jurisdictions, a precedent may be considered persuasive if it comes from a recent decision made by a court in a jurisdiction with similar size and laws as the local jurisdiction. This can be beneficial since it guarantees consistency and predictability in decisions.
However, this can be detrimental if the court is considering a case with significant complexity. Cases with numerous issues may be difficult to comprehend and decipher, making it more likely that judges will make an error in judgment.
Precedents are a commonly-used tool in the legal system to clarify ambiguities. They can be applied across many areas, from constitutional law to commercial law.
For example, when a company wants to sell goods to a customer, they may want to determine whether the buyer is legally an American citizen of that particular country. This requires the court to consult with past decisions regarding citizenship rights.
Common precedents used to resolve such questions come from the English High Court, as its high level of authority in this field. These decisions are typically referred to as ‘binding precedents’, since they must be adhered to by lower courts when making future determinations.
Furthermore, courts often cite precedents when debating matters of equity and contract law. Doing so helps guarantee courts don’t overreach in their decision-making and apply the law of contract strictly and consistently.
Clarifying ambiguities through litigation can be a beneficial strategy, as it prevents courts from making hasty or unfounded decisions in an effort to reach a satisfactory resolution of the case.
Another method for judging the validity of a precedent is by asking whether it provides an objective reason for the action taken by a later court. This question poses significant difficulties and might spark some disagreement between scholars from different legal traditions.