Principle Sources of Indian Law – Judicial Decisions

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What is the Meaning of Source?

The literal meaning of Source is the origin, principal sources of Indian Law – Statute and Legislation. 

Statute law is a law that is created by legislation like the State Legislature. While a Legislature is a kind of assembly that has the power to pass, amend and repeal the laws. 

Judicial Precedent is understood as the already established principle which was either confirmed in any other previous law or has been decided by the court to give an effect to its judgment, and the same is being carried and applied to similar cases.

In our further discussion, we will learn in-depth about this Judicial Precedent, its types. For legal discussion, we also have attached certain legal cases associated with the context. 

Judicial Precedent

A precedent is an already established principle or rule in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive for the court or any other tribunal body when deciding the following cases with similar issues or facts. Common legal systems greatly affect the deciding cases according to the consistent principle rules, for similar facts which will yield easier and predictable outcomes. Observance of the precedent is a mechanism by which the goal is achieved. The principle is known as ‘Stare Decisis’ which compels the judges to stick by the precedents, and not to make other inferences from the issue as the judgment is already stated. 

Types of Judicial Precedent

The types of Judicial Precedents are discussed below:

An original precedent is where a judge is compelled to make a decision. He needs to conclude the facts in the case that they have not come before a court previously. 

A binding precedent is binding on subordinate courts. A future judge in a lower court mandatorily follows the decision of a previous judge in a higher court, if the facts of the case are similar. There are exceptions also. If case facts are different, the Supreme Court is not so strictly bound by their previous decisions. 

Persuasive precedents are not binding on the courts, they might be the statements of a previous common-law judge who has made decisions that can influence a future judge in his/her own decision making.

Judicial Precedent Cases

In the case of Union of India Vs. Raghubir Singh, it was held that "The doctrine of binding precedent has the merit of promoting a certainty and consistency in judicial decisions and enables an organic development of the law, besides assuring the individual as to the consequence of transactions forming daily affairs. Therefore, the need for a clear and rigid enunciation of legal principle in the decisions of a court." 

Yet, in another case of Commissioner of Income Tax Vs. M/s Sun Engineering Works Private Limited the Supreme Court held that "While applying the decision to a latter case, the court must carefully try to ascertain the true principle laid down by the decision of Supreme Court and not to pick out words or sentences from the judgments divorced from the context of the question under consideration by the court to support their reasoning." Any interim order that is passed even by the Supreme Court is limited to that particular case. It is said that it should not be used as a precedent for other cases specifically when the Supreme Court itself has earlier decided the question which is directly involved in the latter case. 

Court Precedent Definition

Precedent, in legal terminology, is a judgment or a decision of the court which is cited or is referred to in a subsequent dispute as an example to justify deciding the same case or point of law in the same manner. This common law in English and American legal systems is dependent strongly on the body of pre-established precedents, although in the original development of equity the court theoretically had freedom from precedent. They did not have to rely entirely on precedent decisions. The principle of Stare Decisis meaning - “let the decision stand” became rigidly accepted. 

The Doctrine of Binding Judicial Precedent

The doctrine of binding judicial precedent, states that all the courts are bound by all the lower courts, and some courts are also bound among themselves. The hierarchy of the courts is to be outlined, some courts may be bound by the earlier decisions which have been made in previous cases. As Carleton Kemp Allen said that whatever merits a precedent may possess, ‘certainty’ is the least to be followed. This means that the precedent need not be followed with all certainty, this is understandable as precedents are multiple, conflicts arising in the courts are also multiple here. This will only emerge from all the ‘authorities’, the lawyers are aware of the conflicting matters and to be dealt with individually if precedent cannot be applied.

Precedents bring flexibility to the legal system of India. The Supreme Court of India is not bound by its own earlier decisions. The rules settled by the Supreme Court in a particular subject matter remain in force unless they have not been overruled by the Supreme Court itself.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Doctrine of Judicial Precedent?

Ans. The advantage of the doctrine of precedent is it provides certainty and predictability already, thus saves court time. Also, the disadvantage, stare decisive can result in a lack of flexibility and an inability of the common law to adapt to changing circumstances like moral, socio-economic, and political scenarios resulting in a static body of law.

Q2. What is the Example of Precedent?

Ans. An act, statement, legal decision, and case are examples of precedent.

Q3. How can Judges avoid Binding Precedent?

Ans. A judge can avoid binding precedent by overruling. A judge in the higher court can overrule a precedent that is established in a subordinate court when a similar case comes before the apex court. 

Q4. What are Statutes?

Ans. Statutes are law that is enacted by the legislature. Like the Civil Rights Act, 1964.