ESSAY: a) Explain and illustrate the operation of the doctrine of judicial precedent.
b) How far is it true to say judges are bound by decisions in earlier cases?
Judicial precedent is where the past decisions of the judges create law for future judges to follow. English precedent is based on the Latin, stare decisis, meaning stand by what has been said in the past. This allows the rules system to be consistent: like cases treated alike, and it is just, as people can decide on a course of conduct knowing what the legal consequences will be.
Judicial Precedent can only operate if the legal reasons for past decisions are known, therefore, at the end of the case there will be a judgement. This will contain the precise words of the judge and follow a Law Report, which consists of full accounts of cases that are considered important. It will give an account of the facts of the case and a summary of the decision. The principles of law that the judge used to make his decision are the important part of the judgement, and are known as ratio decidendi, or 'the reason for deciding'. This is what creates a precedent for judges to follow in future cases. This is identified not by the judge that makes the decision, but by lawyers looking at it afterwards, they may therefore have different views on it. The remainder of the judgement is called obiter dicta and in future cases, judges do not have to follow it. These are other things the judge said, such as the reasoning and explanation of why he made the decision. It may also contain a hypothetical situation, what his decision would have been if the facts of the case had been different, and the legal reasoning may be considered in future cases. If a new event that hasn't been decided before comes to the court (original precedent), it is likely that the judge will look at cases which are close in principle and decide to use similar rules. This idea of creating new law by analogy can be seen in Hunter v Canary Wharf (1995). The interference with the reception on Hunter's television because of Canary Wharf Tower having been built, was likened to the case of Bland v Molselely (1661), in respect to the loss of a view. The two things were said to be a matter of "delight" and not "necessity" so could not come before the courts.
In England and Wales, the courts have a very rigid doctrine of judicial precedent, which has the effect that every court is bound to follow any decision made by a higher court and that appellate courts are bound by their own decisions. Decisions made in the European Court of Justice bind all other courts since 1973 and can overrule its own decisions. Decisions made in the House of Lords bind all lower courts, especially Court of Appeal, and, since 1966 when it issued a practise statement, can overrule past decisions. This is clearly seen in DPP. NI v Lynch when the House of Lords said that duress could be a defence to a charge of murder,...