Stare Decisis: The Guardian of Consistency in a Dynamic Legal Landscape

By Avanish Kumar Chaturvedi BA LLB (Hons.)

College – CMP Degree College , University of Allahabad

The legal system, at its core, strives for two fundamental principles: justice and predictability. While the pursuit of justice ensures that individual cases are decided fairly based on their merits, predictability guarantees that the law is applied consistently, fostering a sense of fairness and order. This delicate balance is safeguarded by the doctrine of Stare Decisis, a Latin phrase meaning “to stand by things decided; to uphold precedents; to maintain former adjudication”. It is derived from the legal maxim ‘ stare decisis et non quieta movere’ which means it is best to adhere to decisions and not to disturb questions, which have been put at rest .

Merriam Webster defines Stare Decisis as a legal doctrine which mandates courts to follow historical cases while making a ruling on a similar case . Stare Decisis ensures that cases with similar scenarios and facts are approached in the same way.

Lord Coke describes that, those things which have been often adjudged ought to rest in peace”

Justice Frankfurter describes that the doctrine of Stare Decisis is not “an imprisonment of reason”. It is based on the philosophy that the view and procedure which has been followed for a long period of time should not be disturbed only because another view is possible”.

Stare Decisis is a cornerstone of common law legal systems like those in the United States and India. Since the establishment of courts, the principles of ‘Stare Decisis’ have been in existence . It mandates that courts, when faced with a new legal issue, should generally follow the rulings established in previous cases with similar facts and legal issues. Essentially, it compels lower courts to be bound by the precedents set by higher courts within the same jurisdiction, and even higher courts hesitate to overturn their own prior rulings unless under exceptional circumstances. This principle has been placed in article 141 of the Indian constitution which provides law consistency and permanence and helps in avoiding uncertainty.

Article 141 says that , “Law declared by the Supreme Court to be binding on all courts The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India.”

Case laws

In the case of  Waman Rao v. Union of India, (1981) 2 SCC 362 the Constitution Bench of the Supreme  Court observed thus:

“40. … for the application of the rule of stare decisis, it is not necessary that the earlier decision or decisions of longstanding should have considered and either accepted or rejected the particular argument which is advanced in the case on hand.

In the Judgement of Manganese Ore (India) Ltd. v. Regional Asstt. CST, (1976) 4 SCC 124, at page 127 wherein the Supreme court opined that the doctrine of stare decisis is a very valuable principle of precedent, unless there are extraordinary or special reasons to do so, it cannot be departed.

In Ambika Prasad Mishra Etc. vs State of U.P. and Ors. Etc. 1980 AIR 1762, 1980 SCR (3)1159, a Constitution Bench of 13 judges of the honorable Supreme Court dealt with this doctrine and declared that every new discovery and argumentative style cannot affect the reconsideration of a binding precedent. In this view ,other submissions which are presented with high pressure advocacy cannot force the court to reopen what was laid down for the guidance of the nation.

In the landmark case of the State of UP And ors. Vs. Ajay Kumar Sharma And Anr. (2016) 15 SCC 289, the Supreme court of India, considered the doctrine of stare decisis and principle of precedent, ordered that a smaller and a later Bench is bound to follow the law established by the Earlier bench . Apart from the article 141, it is the duty of courts to stand by precedent and not to disturb a settled point.

Apex Court applying Sub-Inspector Rooplal v. Lt. Governor (2000) 1 SCC 644 has succinctly observed that, Consistency is the cornerstone of the administration of justice. In the system, confidence is created by consistency. Doctrine of Stare Decisis is a view to achieve consistency in judicial pronouncements,

The Pillars of Stare Decisis: Vertical and Horizontal Application

The principle of stare decisis manifests in two primary forms:

 ● Vertical Stare Decisis: This principle establishes a hierarchical structure within the legal system. Lower courts within a particular jurisdiction are obligated to follow the precedents set by higher courts within the same jurisdiction. For instance, a state court in the United States must adhere to the established rulings of the federal courts, and lower federal courts must follow the precedents set by the Supreme Court. This hierarchical application ensures consistency in legal interpretations across different levels of the court system.

 ● Horizontal Stare Decisis: This principle dictates that courts should generally follow their own prior decisions when addressing similar legal issues. This fosters consistency within a single court, preventing conflicting interpretations of the law and ensuring that individuals similarly situated are treated alike. For example, if a state Supreme Court previously ruled that a particular law violated the right to privacy, lower courts within that state would be bound to follow that precedent when faced with similar cases challenging the same law.

The Significance of Stare Decisis: Promoting Stability and Fairness

Stare decisis plays a crucial role in upholding the integrity and efficacy of the legal system. Its significance can be understood through its impact on several key aspects:

● Predictability: Stare decisis fosters a predictable legal environment. By providing a framework for anticipating the potential outcomes of cases based on established precedents, it allows individuals and legal professionals to make informed decisions. Lawyers can strategize legal arguments based on existing case law, and individuals can understand their rights and obligations with greater clarity. This predictability fosters trust in the legal system.

● Stability: Consistent legal interpretations are essential for maintaining stability within the legal system. Stare decisis discourages arbitrary rulings and upholds the rule of law by ensuring that similar cases are treated consistently. This instills confidence in the system and fosters a sense of fairness, as individuals are assured that their cases will be decided based on established legal principles rather than the whims of individual judges.

● Efficiency: Adherence to precedent saves valuable time and resources within the legal system. By preventing courts from repeatedly re-litigating the same legal issues, stare decisis expedites cases and reduces the burden on both the courts and the parties involved. This efficiency allows the legal system to function smoothly and address new legal challenges in a timely manner.

]Navigating the Exceptions: When Stare Decisis Bends, but Doesn’t Break.

While stare decisis serves as a vital pillar of the legal system, it’s crucial to recognize that it’s not an absolute doctrine. There are certain circumstances where courts may depart from established precedent, demonstrating the inherent flexibility and dynamism of the law:

● Distinguishable Facts: If the current case presents facts that are significantly different from the precedent-setting case, the court might not be bound to follow it. For example, a previous case may have established the legality of a specific advertising practice. However, if a new case involves a significantly different advertising format that raises distinct legal concerns, the court may need to re-evaluate the applicability of the precedent.

● Change in Law: If a relevant law or regulation undergoes significant changes, the court may need to revisit the established precedent to ensure its continued validity and compliance with the updated legal framework. For instance, a Supreme Court ruling may have interpreted a specific law in a certain way. However, if the legislature subsequently amends the law in a way that alters its meaning and intent, the court may need to re-evaluate its earlier interpretation.

● Erroneous Decision: In rare instances, if the court finds a previous decision to be demonstrably wrong and based on flawed reasoning or incorrect interpretations of the law, it may choose to overrule it. This is typically done through a carefully reasoned and documented process, highlighting the specific errors in the earlier decision and explaining the rationale for the departure from precedent. The doctrine of stare decisis, with its emphasis on consistency and predictability, serves as a cornerstone of a robust legal system. It fosters fairness, ensures efficient case management,

The Apex Court in the case of Ashok Kumar Gupta, Vidya Sagar & ors. vs. State Of U.P. & Ors 1997 (5) SCC 201 dealt with the doctrine of stare decisis and observed that The Doctrine of ‘Stare Decisis’ though maintains consistency and uniformity but it is not an inflexible rule. Its applicability is entirely within the discretion of the court. Stare Decisis is not the rule of Res Judicata.


In conclusion, stare decisis, the principle of adhering to precedent, serves as a vital cornerstone of a robust legal system. It fosters predictability, stability, and public confidence in the law. However, its unwavering application must be balanced with the need for the law to evolve alongside society. By acknowledging the inherent tension between stability and progress, the legal system can ensure that stare decisis remains an effective tool for navigating the complexities of a dynamic legal landscape.






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