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English Legal System

English Legal System (5th edn)

Helen Rutherford, Birju Kotecha, and Angela Macfarlane
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date: 28 September 2023

p. 1655. The doctrine of judicial precedentlocked

p. 1655. The doctrine of judicial precedentlocked

  • Helen Rutherford, Helen RutherfordSenior Lecturer, Northumbria University
  • Birju KotechaBirju KotechaSenior Lecturer, Northumbria University
  •  and Angela MacFarlaneAngela MacFarlaneSenior Lecturer, Northumbria University


This chapter considers an essential source of law in the English legal system: judicial precedent (or ‘case law’). The rules and principles of the doctrine of judicial precedent are explored, including how precedents are created, developed, and followed. The chapter analyses the rule that forms the precedent—the ratio decidendi, or the reason for the decision—as well as the importance of other judicial statements that do not form part of those reasons—the obiter dicta. The principle of binding precedent is captured by the expression ‘stare decisis’ (stand by what is decided) and binding precedent relies on a hierarchy of courts. The hierarchy can help to establish whether a particular ratio decidendi binds a particular court and whether an appellate court is bound by its own previous precedents. The chapter is packed with case law examples and highlights the role of non-binding precedent which may still be deemed persuasive for a particular court. The relationship between the English courts and the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is considered. Finally, the chapter considers how a court may avoid following a particular precedent by the process of overruling, distinguishing, or reversing.

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