18.4 The Doctrine Of Precedent
From "The Rule Of Law" by LJM Cooray (1995)

The doctrine of judicial precedent is at the heart of the common law system of rights and duties. The courts are bound (within prescribed limits) by prior decisions of superior courts. Adherence to precedent helps achieve two objects of the legal order. Firstly it contributes to the maintenance of a regime of stable laws. This stability gives predicability to the law and affords a degree of security for individual rights. Secondly it ensures that the law develops only in accordance with the changing perceptions of the community and therefore more accurately reflects the morals and expectations of the community.

A system based on precedent will be rational (without making reason its god), will be adaptable to varied and changing circumstances, will take into account all the varieties of human experience, will be highly practical and will be composed by the finest minds of many generations, tuned to a fine balance and learned in the art of detecting legal issues and resolving legal problems. The gradual development of the system will avoid the pitfalls of hasty and counterproductive reformism.

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