Precedent Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Precedent?

It is a judgement or a decision taken by an appeal court in some previous case, which would form a basis of all similar cases or trials in the future.A lower court must follow a precedent (also called stare decisis) to ease the trial as they may have ready guidance and example of some prior decisions of similar case.

History and Meaning of Precedent

The concept of precedent has its roots in English common law. It refers to a legal principle whereby a decision made by a higher court becomes a rule for lower courts to follow in future cases that are similar in nature. This system helps ensure consistency in the interpretation and application of the law.

Precedents are categorized into two types, binding and persuasive. A binding precedent is one that a court must follow under the principle of stare decisis ("let the decision stand"). Persuasive precedent refers to a legal decision that is not binding but may be considered relevant in future similar cases.

Examples of Precedent

  1. In the case of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court's decision to legalize abortion became binding precedent for lower courts to follow in similar cases.

  2. The landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education established that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This decision became a persuasive precedent for cases regarding discrimination and civil rights.

  3. In the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the US Supreme Court's decision to allow unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns became binding precedent for lower courts to follow.

Legal Terms Similar to Precedent

  1. Stare Decisis: The principle that courts must follow previously decided cases, also known as legal precedent.

  2. Case Law: Legal decisions made by courts that establish precedents and form the basis of future legal interpretations.

  3. Binding Authority: The legal power of a precedent to require a court to follow and apply it in a current case.