A precedent is a court decision that is used as authority in later cases involving same or similar facts or legal concerns. Precedent is included into the notion of stare decisis and compels courts to apply the law consistently to decisions with similar facts. Precedents can be used by judges to create public expectations for what sort of decisions they will make and thus influence future judgments.
Precedents can be made up of multiple cases involving similar facts, or even entire classes of cases. For example, the Supreme Court's 1963 decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. invalidated an employment test for racial discrimination because it had a disproportionate impact on black applicants. This one decision established new rights for blacks seeking employment at private companies that received federal funds. It also changed the way employers treated minorities when making hiring decisions about candidates for any kind of job.
In order for there to be a precedent, there needs to be agreement between the parties involved that the previous case was resolved correctly. If another court disagrees and rules differently than the first, then there is no precedent since different results were reached based on the facts of each case.
The process of creating precedent is called judicialization. When a court issues a judgment, that decision becomes the "law" of the land and can be applied to future cases with very little input from other institutions within the government system.
A precedent is a concept or rule set in a previous legal case that is either binding or persuasive on a court or other tribunal when considering later cases with comparable questions or circumstances without going to court. The term comes from the Latin praecursor, meaning "one who goes before," and refers to someone who sets an example or provides guidance for others to follow.
When used by courts, the word assumes special significance because courts often describe their decisions as following or declining to follow a particular precedent. Such statements are usually made only after considerable analysis of the facts involved in the prior case and a determination by the court that its decision will be consistent with earlier rulings if repeated under similar facts.
Courts often cite precedent when denying petitions for rehearing or appeals. These citations can be either favorable or unfavorable depending on how closely the new case parallels the one previously decided. If the new case follows the previous one, then it is appropriate for the court to say that it sees no reason to reconsider its holding; otherwise, the court may say that it disagrees with the previous decision or that it has a duty to follow higher authority.
Precedent is also important in selecting judges. Any lawyer seeking appointment to a judicial position must demonstrate his or her commitment to applying existing law faithfully and should also indicate any potential prejudice toward certain parties or issues before the selection committee.
In the law, precedent refers to a legal case that establishes a concept or norm. The court then applies that concept or rule in other cases involving comparable concerns or facts. "The 'paradox of precedent,' as the title of my speech suggests, truly captures the American approach to precedent," Grant added. "We do not follow judicial precedents because they are correct, but rather because they are correct."
Precedent is important in our system of justice because it allows for consistency and stability in decision-making. If courts did not follow previous cases they would be forced to analyze each case independently which could lead to many different results based on slight changes in facts or laws. Followed properly, precedent ensures that judges do not make arbitrary decisions but instead rely on established rules to resolve disputes.
Precedent can also be used by judges as a tool to create new law. They may find it necessary to create a standard of conduct for certain situations not covered by statutes or regulations. Or they may use precedent to limit the scope of existing laws by refusing to extend their application beyond those circumstances for which it was originally intended. For example, one court may hold that products liability does not apply to sales of food, while another court may conclude that restaurant owners are liable for injuries caused by defective tables. In both cases, the courts were relying on a body of precedent to reach their conclusions.
A precedent, also known as stare decisis, is a series of court decisions that serve as the foundation for future cases. Because there is no formal legal code that may apply to a particular case, common law, also known as case law, relies on extensive records of previous events and legislation. In other words, judges are able to determine what decision should be made in a new case by looking at how previous cases have been resolved.
Precedent does not mean the same thing as law because it is not directly applicable to any single case. Rather, it is the body of commonly held views about what duties or rights people are entitled to in our system of justice. As such, it can only be determined what role, if any, precedent plays in any given case by looking at how previous cases were decided. A judge cannot simply announce that he or she will not follow precedent when making a decision. Instead, judges tend to rely on precedent to provide guidance on how to resolve issues before them.
For example, suppose someone is accused of murder but claims self-defense. Without precedent to guide it, the judge could decide that person is not entitled to an instruction on self-defense because there is no right to use force in defense against another person. But if past cases had established that the right to defend oneself includes the right to use deadly force, then the judge would likely give the charge.