JUDICIAL PRECEDENT AS A SOURCE OF LAW
In simple words, judicial precedent refers to previously decided judgments of the superior courts, such as the High Courts and the Supreme Court, which judges are bound to follow. This binding character of the previously decided cases is important, considering the hierarchy of the courts established by the legal systems of a particular country. Judicial precedent is an important source of law, but it is neither as modern as legislation nor is it as old as custom. It is an important feature of the English legal system as well as of other common law countries which follow the English legal system. In most of the developed legal systems, judiciary is considered to be an important organ of the State. In modern societies, rights are generally conferred on the citizens by legislation and the main function of the judiciary is to adjudicate upon these rights. The judges decide those matters on the basis of the legislations and prevailing custom but while doing so, they also play a creative role by interpreting the law. By this exercise, they lay down new principles and rules which are generally binding on lower courts within a legal system. It is important to understand the extent to which the courts are guided by precedents. It is equally important to understand what really constitutes the judicial decision in a case and which part of the decision is actually binding on the lower courts.
Judicial decisions can be divided into following two parts:
Ratio decidendi (Reason of Decision):
Ratio decidendi’ refers to the binding part of a judgment. ‘Ratio decidendi’ literally means reasons for the decision. It is considered as the general principle which is deduced by the courts from the facts of a particular case. It becomes generally binding on the lower courts in future cases involving similar questions of law.
Obiter dicta (Said by the way):
An ‘obiter dictum’ refers to parts of judicial decisions which are general observations of the judge and do not have any binding authority. However, obiter of a higher judiciary is given due consideration by lower courts and has persuasive value.