stare decisis | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

Stare Decisis is legal Latin for “to stand by things decided,” the doctrine that rules of law established in past court cases should be followed in present ones.

Also known as the Doctrine of Precedence.

Stare decisis, a Latin term meaning “to stand by things decided,” is an important principle of the legal system. It refers to the doctrine that legal decisions should be based on precedent, meaning that judges should follow the legal reasoning and outcomes of previous cases that have similar facts and legal issues. The principle of Stare Decisis ensures that the law is predictable and stable and that legal decisions are consistent over time.

Stare Decisis is closely related to the doctrine of precedent, which is a fundamental principle of the common law legal system. Under the doctrine of precedent, judges are expected to follow the decisions of higher courts in their jurisdiction, and to apply the legal principles established in those cases to the facts of new cases that come before them. This allows for consistency and predictability in the legal system, as well as a degree of fairness, as similar cases will be treated similarly.

Stare Decisis is not an inflexible rule, however, and there are exceptions to the principle. For example, if a previous case was wrongly decided, or if there has been a change in the law or in the circumstances since the previous case was decided, a court may depart from the previous decision. In addition, courts are sometimes reluctant to follow a previous decision if it is outdated or if it would result in an unjust or absurd outcome in the present case.

Overall, the principle of Stare Decisis is an essential component of the legal system. By following previous decisions, courts are able to provide consistency and predictability in their rulings and to ensure that similar cases are treated similarly. However, the principle is not absolute, and courts may depart from previous decisions when necessary to ensure justice and fairness in individual cases.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023


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