Binding precedent

This is a reference to a previous decision or case which must be followed.

Binding precedent  is a precedent which must be followed because it comes from a higher court or is an earlier decision of the same court. The ratio decidendi of a case is the binding part. An example of a well-known binding precedent is that a manufacturer owes a duty of care to the end consumer – this comes from the famous case of Donoghue v Stevenson.

 This principle is strictly adhered to even though the  judge may not agree with the legal reasoning given in the earlier case which forms the binding precedent. 

Not all previous decisions are capable of creating a binding precedent.  The earlier case must have a clear relevance to the later case which is before the courts. 

The material facts of the second later case must be sufficiently similar to the material facts of the earlier case. 

In addition the court making the original decision must be higher in the court hierarchy than the court deciding the later case or in some cases at least at the same level.  The concept of judicial precedent can only operate under these principles for the sake of fairness, consistency and certainty. 

In other words every court is bound to (i.e. must follow) any decision of a court above it in the hierarchy.  The concept is clearly demonstrated by the position in the hierarchy of the Court of Appeal.  Both the Civil and Criminal divisions are bound to follow the decisions of the European Court of Justice as well as the House of Lords.  The Court of Appeal is usually required to follow its own past decisions but there are some limited exceptions to this rule.


Judge calls for clarity on status of ECJ rulings in UK ... - The Guardian