What Is the Definition of Judicial Precedent?

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According to Northumbria University, a judicial precedent is a court ruling that is used as a source of future judicial decision making. A judicial precedent is authoritative and binding, meaning that once a decision has been made in court, future court cases must rely on this precedent when ruling.

Judicial precedent is a feature of common law legal systems, which develop laws through judicial practices rather than purely legislative processes or executive regulations. Northumbria University explains that judicial precedent is closely intertwined with the legal principle of stare decisis (latin meaning to stand upon decisions), which asserts that cases with similar facts must be treated in a similar manner. Judges must look to a judicial precedent to assure stare decisis is upheld in decision making.

Judicial precedents are subject to a rule of verticality. This rule gives preference to different courts in a hierarchy, ranging from the highest supreme court to intermediate appellate courts and the lowest trial courts. Judges are also bound by horizontality, which asserts that a judge must respect decisions made by other judges even on the same hierarchical level. Northumbria University points out that the highest courts can create what is called a “binding precedent.” This ensures that all lower courts must abide by the decision in the precedent, rather than just taking it into strong consideration.