Dogma of Stare Decisis: Elucidation


Stare decisis, a principle of prudence, one of the pre-eminent doctrine which is a Latin term meaning ‘To stand by things Decided”. It is a doctrine of the courts of law, a principle upon which respites the authority of judicial decisions as precedents in subsequent litigations, is exemplified in the maxim, “stare decisis et non quieta movere’ which means to stand by the precedents and not to intrude settled points. In a legal context, this is understood to mean that courts should generally stand by precedent and not disturb settled matters. This was pertinently placed by Lord Coke in his English version as “Those things which have been so often adjudged ought to rest in peace”. Though, according to Justice Frankfurter, this doctrine is not “an imprisonment of reason”. The fundamental rationality of this doctrine is to sustain consistency and avoid uncertainty. The controlling perspective is that opinion which has held in a field for quite some time, should not be upset only because another view is possible. The inclination of judicial opinion is that stare decisis is not a doctrinaire rule averse to rationality and logic,  it is an elastic principle which manoeuvres in the sphere of precedents providing room to collaborate with the strains of changing times dictated by social necessities, State dogma and judicial morality. Judicature adduces this doctrine where an issue has been previously brought to it and has already been adjudicated. To elucidate further, when a point of law has been once gravely and inevitably settled by a competent court, it shall no longer be considered open to scrutiny, or to a new ruling, by those which are bound to follow its adjudications. This principle of policy steers vertically as well as horizontally. When a court adhere to its own adjudication and use it as precedent then it is termed as horizontal stare decisis and when a court engages in vertical decisis, it applies precedent from a higher court. Thus its object is to ease expenditure, foster confidence on judicial decisions and lessen litigation on established previous judgements. Court under this principle need not revaluate legal underpinnings of past adjudications continuously.

Further, proponents contends that the formulaic bestowed by the doctrine helps clarify constitutional rights for the public. A solemn decision in any judicial point in the past becomes an authority for a similar case or like case as it becomes the topmost evidence which a person can apply onto a similar subject and thus become bounding on judges to adhere to that ruling as long as it is not rescinded. Such case can only be reversed if it can be shown that the law was not appropriately interpreted or application was erroneous. Even if the same or any other court in a subsequent case is in a doubt with regards to the correctness of ruling then consequences of a very grave character to be contemplated and weighed before the experiment of disregarding is ventured upon.  If a ruling which was made upon the argument and mature deliberation is in approbation of its correctness and people have right to take it as equitable declaration. If precedents were not implicitly followed then it would get immensely distressing for the public to regulate actions. It is preferable to accept adjudged cases as precedents in future controversies laying on analogue facts.

Unlike courts, adjudicatory bodies are not bound by their own decisions. The doctrine of stare decisis does not apply to such bodies except that an adjudicatory may be bound by the decision of a body higher in the hierarchy, or the decisions of the concerned High Court or ultimately of the Supreme Court. In case there is no such binding precedent, an adjudicatory body may differ from its earlier decision if it thinks proper to do so in the circumstances of a case. However, in the interests of orderly administration of justice, uniformity of decisions of adjudicator’s body is better than inconsistency in decisions. It is preferable that an adjudicatory body decides the cases raising the same point in the same way, otherwise, public grievances are bound to arise. Too frequent changes in the opinions of an adjudicatory body would create uncertainty in the public mind. The rationale of this principle is the need for enduring certainty and predictableness in the admin of justice. Those who are touched by decisions of courts have right to anticipate that those exercising judicial roles will monitor the motive or the basis of judicial verdict in the past case on alike matters. Judicial inconsistency would shake public confidence in the administration of justice. But this does not mean any erroneous earlier decision ought not to be corrected.

This legal notion has been described by Supreme Court judges, Justice D.K Jain and H.L Dattu, in Shankar Raju vs Union of India. The doctrine pertains to the concept of being bound by earlier decision. The original sense of this doctrine is to uphold uniformity and avoid ambiguity. The administrative idea is that a view which has held the field for a long time should not be disturbed only because another view is probable. This has been pertinently pointed out in Waman Rao v. Union of India, (1981). In the case of Manganese Ore (India) Ltd. v. Regional Asstt, it was held that the doctrine of stare decisis is a respected principle of precedent which can’t be perished from unless there are unexpected or superior reasons to do so. In the case of Krishena Kumar V. Union of India, court explained this doctrine as, when court has once laid down a principle of law as applicable to certain state of facts, it will adhere to that principle, and apply it to all future cases where facts are substantially the same. A deliberate and solemn decision of court made after argument on question of law fairly arising in the case, and necessary to its determination, is an authority, or binding precedent in the same court, or in other courts of equal or lower rank in subsequent cases where the very point is again in controversy unless there are occasions when departure is rendered necessary to vindicate plain, obvious principles of law and remedy continued injustice. It should be invariably applied and should not ordinarily be departed from where decision is of long standing and rights have been acquired under it, unless considerations of public policy demand it.

This doctrine of binding precedent has the virtue of stimulating a certainty and reliability in judicial decisions, and empowers a gradual development of the law, besides providing assertion to the individual as to the significance of dealings forming part of his daily affairs. And, therefore, there is a necessity for an unblemished and unswerving expression of legal principle in the verdicts of a court.


Author: Sumit Malhotra

Intern, Kaden Boriss

5th Year- B.A.LLB (hons.), Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi