Binding Precedent Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Binding Precedent, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Binding Precedent?

A precedent that lower courts must follow since it was set by a higher court.

History and Meaning of Binding Precedent

Binding precedent is a legal term that refers to a decision made by a higher court that lower courts must follow in the same jurisdiction. This means that once a precedent has been set, it must be followed by all lower courts in future cases within that jurisdiction. The purpose of binding precedent is to create consistency and predictability in the legal system, as well as to establish a hierarchy of courts.

The concept of binding precedent dates back to English common law, which created a system of courts with varying levels of authority. Under this system, higher courts could overrule the decisions of lower courts, creating a chain of precedents that had to be followed by all courts below them. Today, most common law jurisdictions, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and India, use some form of binding precedent.

Examples of Binding Precedent

  1. In the United States, the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education established a binding precedent that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This ruling has been cited in numerous cases since then, and must be followed by all lower courts.

  2. In Canada, the Supreme Court's decision in R. v. Oakes established a binding precedent for the test used to determine whether a limitation on a Charter right is acceptable. This has been followed by lower courts in subsequent cases.

  3. In Australia, the High Court's decision in Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2) established a binding precedent that recognized the existence of native title in Australia. This case has been cited in numerous subsequent cases dealing with Indigenous land rights.

Legal Terms Similar to Binding Precedent

  1. Stare decisis: This is another term used to refer to the principle of following precedent. It means "to stand by things decided".

  2. Persuasive precedent: This refers to a precedent that a court is not required to follow, but can choose to be influenced by.

  3. Overruling: This is what happens when a higher court decides that a precedent is no longer valid, and replaces it with a new one.