Precedent is the practice of using previous court decisions as a guide for deciding current cases. This can be advantageous in several ways, but it also has some disadvantages. Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of using precedent:
Consistency: Precedent helps ensure that similar cases are decided in a consistent manner. This means that similar cases will be decided the same way, regardless of the court or judge hearing the case. This promotes stability and predictability in the legal system.
Efficiency: Using precedent can save time and resources because it eliminates the need to start from scratch every time a new case arises. Instead, the court can rely on previous decisions to guide its decision-making.
Fairness: Precedent ensures that everyone is treated fairly and equally under the law. It helps prevent judges from making arbitrary decisions based on personal bias or opinion.
Predictability: Using precedent helps create a predictable legal system, which can be helpful for businesses and individuals who want to plan their actions accordingly. By looking at past decisions, they can better understand how the law applies to their situation and make informed decisions.
Judicial efficiency: Relying on precedent can help courts avoid having to re-litigate issues that have already been decided. This can help save judicial resources and promote efficiency in the legal system.
Inflexibility: Precedent can sometimes be inflexible and prevent the law from evolving to reflect changes in society or new circumstances. This can result in outdated or unjust outcomes.
Uncertainty: Because precedent is based on previous decisions, there can be uncertainty about what the law actually is. This can lead to confusion and difficulty in predicting how a court will rule in a given case.
Unjust outcomes: Precedent can also result in unjust outcomes if a previous decision was based on flawed or discriminatory reasoning. In such cases, relying on precedent can perpetuate injustices rather than rectifying them.
Limitations on judicial discretion: Precedent can limit a judge's ability to use their own discretion in deciding a case. If a previous decision sets a strict rule, a judge may be unable to deviate from that rule even if they believe it would lead to a more just outcome.
Stifling innovation: Relying too heavily on precedent can sometimes discourage innovation and creative legal thinking. Lawyers and judges may be hesitant to push the boundaries of the law if they fear that doing so will conflict with established precedent.
While precedent has some clear advantages, it also has some drawbacks that should be taken into account when making legal decisions.
Get a head start on your legal education with our First Year LLB Study Guide.