For one to effectively discuss the importance, characteristics, advantages or disadvantages of Judicial precedence, there is need to understand the focal point of discourse.
What Is Judicial Precedence?
According to G.W Paton, questions of law ought to be decided today in the same way as they were decided yesterday simply because they were decided that way yesterday.
In the Nigerian case of Clement v. Iwuanyanwu, Oputa JSC opined that a precedent is adjudged case or decision of a higher court considered as finishing an example or authority for an identical or similar question afterwards arising on similar question of law.
The doctrine of Judicial precedence (Also known as Stare decisis) requires that the principle of law on which a court bases its decision in relation to material fact or issues, such must be followed by courts lower in hierarchy and may also be Followed by Court of coordinate jurisdictions or court that are higher in hierarchy in future or similar cases.
When a court is under obligation to follow a previous court decision, such precedence is said to be binding, but if a court is at discretion to follow the previous court decision in relation to the instant case that is being litigated upon, the precedence is said to be persuasive.
From the above, it is seen that previous court decisions serves as the compass through which other decisions are based. They are therefore referred to as case laws. This is also why lawyers are sometimes referred to as law makers since their previous decisions serves as the bases or authority for future or similar cases.
Advantages of Judicial Precedence
1. Certainty And Predictability: In the case of Comptel International SPA v Dexion LTD, Uwaifo JSC opined that the doctrine of Judicial precedence thrives on the basis that when the court has at one time laid down a principle of law as applicable to ascertain the state of facts, it will not unsettle that principle but will adhere to it, and apply it to all future cases where the fact are substantially the same, irrespective of whether the parties and subject matter are the same.
This is because there ought to be certainty in Legal principle so that individuals may know how to manage their affeirs as regards the requirement of the law. When there is certainty of law, individuals and their Legal advisers would easily predict what the outcome of certain actions will be.
The ability of prospective litigants to likely predict the results of court process would make them to consider the option of settling their differences outside the court. Certainty and predictability of the law also enables lawyers advise their clients on implications of certain actions and the best approach to such actions.
2. Promotion of Judicial Efficiency: The doctrine of Judicial precedence is a very convenient practice, since it requires that a question once decided should not be subject to relitigation in every case in which in subsequently arises. Therefore there is a level of confidence in the Judicial system as to what is readily obtainable at every point in time.
3. Scientific development of the Law: The application of the doctrine of Judicial precedence reasures scientific development of the legal system. If previous cases are not considered in delivering judgments of the courts, law will cease to be science as it’s majour Hallmark as a science discipline is it’s possibility of predictable.
4. Prevention of Partiality Or Prejudice: The strict adherence to the docrine ensures that secret cows are not usually allowed in judgment, this is because any judgment that departs from the status quo will be looked with eagle eye. Therefore no Judge would risk passing a judgement that is not upright as it will be visible to the blind and audible to the deaf that justice was not served.
Moreover, by making a judge conform to laid down standards, he is prevented from allowing his own subjective views, his prejudices and all tendencies of being biased.
5. It Satisfies The Principle Of Equality: Equality before the law, which is an aspect of the rule of law and justice implies that like cases should be treated alike while unlike cases should receive unlike treatment. Following previous decisions is apparently in line with this principle of equality.
Disadvantages of Judicial Precedence
The doctrine of Judicial precedence has also fall under a very heavy criticisms by legal minds.
1. Rigidity: The stringence of the doctrine may prevent the adaptation of the law to changing social and economic order if the country. The discretion of courts is fetterered, and they frequently have to give decision that they strongly disapprove. It is said that the doctrine of precedent promotes respect for the opinion of elders and that such respect is important for the corpus juris.
However, we should not loose sight of the fact that each era of times has its own peculiarities, their opinion and wisdom was meant to salvage their Judicial challenges then, there is need for innovation which will address our present legal challenges.
2. Inapplicability of decisions based on discretion: The much talked about certainty and predictability of the law resulting from following previous decisions will disappear the earlier decision is based on the discretion of the judge since it has been held that a court is not bound to follow earlier decision based on discretion.
3. Judgment given per incuriam: On the issue of judgment given per incuriam, if such is established as a precedent, it becomes very lethal to the Judicial system.
A judgement given per imcuriam is one whose decision is a clear miscarriage of Justice, therefore when such decisions are set as Judicial precedence, it becomes very perilous to the justice system.
In conclusion, we have been able to see that the doctrine of Judicial precedence has more advantages than its disadvantages. It therefore follows that it is a very important principle in every common law system. In most common law jurisdiction today, the Judiciary has done very well to mitigate some of the disadvantages/criticisms of Judicial precedence mentioned above. Hope this article was helpful? Make sure you drop a comment if you enjoyed this article.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka ChMC, is a Law Student and a Certified Mediator/Conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a Developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and React Native. Samuel is bent on changing the legal profession by building Web and Mobile Apps that will make legal research a lot easier.