Operation of Judicial Precedent

Judicial precedent refers to the process by which legal decisions made by higher courts are used as a basis for decisions made by lower courts. The operation of judicial precedent involves three key concepts: following, overruling, and distinguishing.

Following: When a lower court is presented with a case that is similar in material facts and legal issues to a previous case that has already been decided by a higher court, the lower court is required to follow the legal principle established in the earlier case. This is known as the principle of stare decisis. Essentially, the lower court must apply the legal reasoning and principles used in the earlier case to the current case, unless there is a valid reason to distinguish the current case from the earlier one.

Overruling: Overruling occurs when a higher court disagrees with a previous legal decision made by a lower court, and sets a new legal precedent that contradicts the earlier decision. When a higher court overrules a previous decision, the legal principle established in the earlier decision is no longer binding on lower courts. Instead, the new legal principle established by the higher court becomes the binding precedent for future cases.

Distinguishing: Distinguishing occurs when a lower court decides that a previous legal decision made by a higher court is not applicable to the current case, because the material facts and legal issues are sufficiently different. In this situation, the lower court may distinguish the current case from the earlier one, and make a new legal decision based on the specific facts and circumstances of the current case. This new legal decision does not contradict the earlier decision, but instead establishes a new precedent that is applicable only to the specific circumstances of the current case.

In summary, the operation of judicial precedent involves following established legal principles in similar cases, overruling previous legal decisions when necessary, and distinguishing current cases from previous decisions when the material facts and legal issues are different. Understanding these concepts is essential for lawyers and judges to properly apply and interpret the law.
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