Judicial precedents are an important sources of law. They are the former judgements of the superior courts which the judges in common law countries are bound to follow. This bindingness of previous decisions on the lower courts is partly due to high status which the judges enjoyed in England and also partly because of the importance of the issues which they decided. Judicial decisions were given a high authority as indicative of law of the land. It is often referred to as judge-made law. However, this absolute and binding quality does not apply to all cases . Thus, a superior court is never bound by the decisions of the lower courts. Also, one court of similar jurisdiction is not bound by the decisions of it’s corresponding coordinate jurisdiction. The binding authority exists in cases of inferior courts which are bound by the decisions of the courts superior to themselves. In common law countries, the judge made law is as important as that of the law made by the legislature. In England, the hierarchy of courts is maintained in such a way that at the top of hierarchy is the House of Lords. The decisions rendered by the House of Lords are binding on all the courts in England. House of Lords is followed by the High Court and the decisions of the High Court are binding on division courts. Similarly, the hierarchy of courts in India is that Supreme Court is the Apex Court and the law declared by it is binding on all courts within the territory of India. The Supreme Court is followed by various High Courts of the states and district courts. The decisions rendered by High Courts are binding on all subordinate courts and tribunals within their territory and jurisdiction.
A precedent is purely constitutive and in no degree abrogative. This means that a judicial decision can make a law but cannot alter it. Where there is settled rule of law, it is the duty of the judges to follow the same. They cannot substitute their opinions for the established rule of law. Their function is limited to supplying the vacancies of the legal system, filling up with new law the gaps that exists in the old and supplementing the imperfectly developed body of legal doctrine.
The role of precedents in the common law system cannot be understood unless one knows what a judge or a lawyer means when he speaks of the ratio decidendi of a case and what he means when he says that a statement in a judicial opinion is an obiter dictum. II. MEANING OF RATIO DECIDENDI
The term ‘ratio decidendi’ is a latin term meaning ‘the reason’ or ‘the rationale for the decision’. The part of a case that is said to possess authority is the ratio decidendi,that is to say, the principle or the rule of law on which the court’s decision is based. Finding the ratio decidendi is an important part of the training of a lawyer. it is not a mechanical process but is an art that one gradually acquires through practice and study. The ratio decidendi is a part of judicial precedents. It means the decision or adjudication of pure question of law involved in a case, though deducible from its application to the facts of the case. It means the pure proposition of law or legal proposition upon which a case is decided. A decision is binding normally inter parties and a judgment in rem binds the whole world. However, the ratio decidendi of a judgment binds other courts either under a statutory provision or under the doctrine of judicial precedents to the extent and in the manner provided. It is often said that a previous case is binding as to it’s ratio decidendi. and the ratio is distinguished from obiter dicta which do not bind. Propositions not partaking of the character of ratio decidendi may be disregarded by the judge deciding the later case. There are decisions which do not lay down any proposition of law, example interim orders. There would be no question of ascertainment of any ratio...