The Doctrine of Precedent and Stare Decisis

A “precedent” is a rule or legal principle established by a previous legal case or cases that is either binding or at least persuasive for another court with similar issues or facts. Canada operates on a common-law legal system. Stare decisis refers to the legal principle of determining points of law according to precedent.

In Canada, stare decisis places significant value on deciding cases according to consistent, principled rules of precedent. The plan of the system is that similar cases with similar facts will yield similar, and therefore, predictable decisions. The observance of previous precedent, or in Latin terminology, stare decisis literally translated means “Let the Decision Stand”. The doctrine of precedent encourages lower courts to follow the direction and guidance of decisions by higher courts in previous similar cases. Failure to follow higher court decisions usually ensures success in challenging the decision that did not follow the principle of stare decisis on appeal.

A previous case from a higher court is to be followed later by lower courts if the circumstances or issues in the lower court are very similar or the same. A lower court should only ignore or reject a former decision by a higher court authority, if the lower court is satisfied that its case is distinguishable based on the facts or the law or both. On further appeal, the lower court may be overruled if there were insufficient grounds for the lower court to ignore the higher court’s previous decision. The higher court’s decision is said to be binding on the lower court, meaning it must be followed in later similar cases. The rationale for the principle of stare decisis is that it ensures consistency and certainty in the law.

Canadian Criminal Procedure by Patrick J Ducharme

The above is the an excerpt of Patrick J Ducharme’s book, Canadian Criminal Procedure, available at Amazon or in bulk through MedicaLegal Publishing along with Criminal Trial Strategies.

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