FOLLOWING PRECEDENT

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What Are the Legal Principles That Requires a Court to Follow a Similar Previous Case?

The legal principle that requires a court to follow a similar previous case is known as “stare decisis,” which is a Latin term that translates to “to stand by things decided.” Stare decisis is a fundamental principle in the common law legal system and reflects the idea that decisions made in prior cases should serve as precedents or binding authority for future cases involving similar legal issues.

Does Stare Decisis Require Judges to Only Follow Cases From Higher Courts?

Stare decisis generally requires judges to follow decisions from higher courts within the same jurisdiction. The principle is most strongly applied vertically within a judicial hierarchy, meaning that lower courts are obligated to follow the precedents set by higher courts. The decisions of higher courts are considered binding on lower courts within the same jurisdiction.

Key points regarding the application of stare decisis to decisions from higher courts include:

Binding Authority: Decisions from higher courts, particularly appellate courts, are considered binding authority for lower courts. Lower courts are bound to follow the legal principles established in decisions by higher courts.
Vertical Stare Decisis: The primary application of stare decisis is vertical, meaning it operates within the hierarchical structure of the court system. The decisions of a court of appeals, for example, are binding on trial courts within its jurisdiction.
Adherence to Precedent: Lower courts are expected to adhere to and apply the legal principles established by higher courts in similar cases. This promotes consistency and uniformity in the application of the law.

While stare decisis is most robust when applied to decisions from higher courts, it does not exclusively require adherence to decisions from higher courts. There are situations where judges may also consider decisions from courts at the same level or even from lower courts, but the weight of such decisions may be less than that of decisions from higher courts.

Additionally, when there is no directly applicable precedent from a higher court, judges may look to persuasive authority, including decisions from other jurisdictions or legal scholars, to inform their decisions. While not binding, persuasive authority can influence a court’s reasoning, especially when there is a gap in binding precedent.

It’s important to note that the principle of stare decisis is not absolute, and there are circumstances where a court may depart from precedent. Courts may distinguish the facts of a current case from those of a precedent, question the correctness of a prior decision, or overrule a precedent if it is considered outdated or no longer sound.

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