Doctrine of Precedent Law and Legal Definition

The doctrine of precedent, a fundamental principle of English Law is a form of reasoning and decision making formed by case law. It says that precedents not only have persuasive authority but also must be followed when similar circumstances arise. Any principle announced by a higher court must be followed in later cases. In short the courts are bound within prescribed limits by prior decisions of superior courts. Judges are also obliged to obey the set-up precedents established by prior decisions. This legal principle is called Stare decisis.

Adherence to precedent helps achieve two objects of the legal order. Firstly it helps to maintain a system of stable laws. This stability gives predictability to the law and affords a degree of security for individual rights. Secondly it ensures that the law develops only in accordance with the changing perceptions of the community and therefore it more accurately reflects the morals and expectations of the community.

This doctrine which developed in the 19th century prevails even today.