All about the doctrine of Stare Decisis and its position in India

February 26, 2022

This article is written by R Sai Gayatri from Post Graduate College of Law, Osmania University. This article explains the doctrine of Stare Decisis in detail along with case laws. The position of the doctrine of Stare Decisis in India as per the Constitution of India has also been discussed.


The term ‘Stare Decisis originates from Latin. It means ‘to abide by things decided.’ The doctrine of Stare Decisis is used by all courts in all cases/legal issues. A doctrine is nothing but a principle or instruction, however, it is not essentially a hard and fast rule that can not be broken. For instance, if the Supreme Court passes a judgement and it becomes a precedent, then as per the doctrine of Stare Decisis, the lower courts must follow such a judgement. The same principle has been mentioned in Article 141 of the Constitution

The doctrine of Stare Decisis means that courts refer to the previous, similar legal issues to guide their decisions. Such previous decisions that courts refer to are known as “precedents”. Precedents are legal principles or rules that are created by the decisions given by courts. Such decisions become an authority or an example for the judges to decide similar legal cases/issues in the future. The doctrine of Stare Decisis creates an obligation on courts to refer to precedents when taking a certain decision. Let us know more about the doctrine of Stare Decisis through this article.

Essential objectives of the doctrine of Stare Decisis

The doctrine of Stare Decisis refers to the concept that courts must follow previously made judicial decisions in cases where the same legal issues are brought before them in subsequent matters. The concept of Stare Decisis aims to pursue four essential objectives, they are as follows –

The doctrine of Stare Decisis is premised on the maintenance of certainty, stability and consistency in the legal system. A precedent interests the primary need in a legal system which includes the factors of regularity, rationality and stability. The said doctrine ensures that a legal issue is resolved based on the previously decided cases irrespective of the judiciary and its jurisdiction. In the case of Hari Singh v. the State of Haryana (1993), it was held that in a judicial system that is administered by courts, one of the primary principles to keep note of is that the courts under the same jurisdiction must have similar opinions regarding similar legal questions, issues and circumstances. If opinions given on similar legal issues are inconsistent then instead of achieving harmony in the judicial systems, it will result in judicial chaos. The decision regarding a particular case that has been held for a long time cannot be disturbed merely because of the possibility of the existence of another view.

Further, in the case of ICICI Bank v. Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay (2005), it was held that the decision given by the Apex Court must be read following the context of the statutory provisions which have been interpreted by the competent court. It was also stated that no judgement can be read if it is a statute. Since the law cannot always be static, based on the relevant principles and rules, the Judges must cautiously make use of the precedents in deciding cases.

Illustration on the doctrine of Stare Decisis

Let us assume that James borrows Bond’s bike while James is on a holiday. Bond does not ask James for permission to borrow his bike. Bond accidentally crashes and breaks James’s bike, but he does not tell James about it. Later, Bond simply places back James’s bike at James’s garage. When James returns home and discovers his broken bike, he demands that Bond must buy him a new one. The two bring their issue before the court, and the Court decides in favour of James stating that Bond is liable and owes James the money required for James to fix his bike, however, Bond does not have to buy James a new bike.

The aforesaid judgement given by the court now becomes precedent. Now onwards, based on the precedent established in this case, the lower courts in the same jurisdiction must abide by this new rule i.e., whenever a borrower breaks a thing or an item belonging to a borrowee and such borrower was using the borrowee’s thing or item without the permission of the borrowee in the first place, then the borrower is liable to pay as far as the damages done by them to the borrowee’s item. The lower courts must follow this newly established precedent because the doctrine of Stare Decisis obligates them to do so.

Effect of precedents on future decisions of courts

The doctrine of Stare Decisis is favoured in judicial systems because it encourages predictable, impartial and consistent development of legal principles, the said doctrine also promotes reliance on judicial decisions and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process. Stare Decisis aims to ensure that the public is guided in its personal and professional transactions by previously given court decisions, through established rules and principles. Stare Decisis reflects a concept wherein the applicable rule of law must be settled rather than that it be settled right. Further, the doctrine of Stare Decisis abides by the application of decision-making in a consistent and certain manner which in turn reflects in our legal culture and it is a prima facie display of the belief that such decision-making consistency has a normative value within itself.

The doctrine of Stare Decisis allows the public to presume that the foundational principles are rooted in the law rather than in the bias of the individuals and thereby the said doctrine contributes to the integrity of our judicial system and the government in the branches of application and sustainability. The doctrine of Stare Decisis is indispensable when it comes to the judicial system because it ensures unbiased adjudication and the predictability and certainty of law.

Advantages and disadvantages of the doctrine of Stare Decisis

Like every coin has its two sides, the doctrine of Stare Decisis also has its advantages and disadvantages. They are as follows –

Advantages of the doctrine of Stare Decisis

Disadvantages of the doctrine of Stare Decisis

Position of the doctrine of Stare Decisis in India

The doctrine of Stare Decisis did not exist in India during the ancient or mediaeval period. It was only during the advent of British rule in the country that the concept of binding precedent was introduced and applied in India. The adoption of the doctrine of Stare Decisis was suggested by Dorin in the year 1813. The British legal establishment led to the concept of the hierarchy of courts along with the reporting of decisions, these two elements are the preconditions for the functioning of the doctrine of Stare Decisis.

The Britishers established the Sardar Diwani Adalats and the Supreme Courts at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The High Court Act, 1861 was enacted enabling the establishment of High Courts by the issue of letters of patent. Such High Courts had original and appellate jurisdiction. Therefore, a system of hierarchy of courts was established by the Britishers.

The Government of India Act, 1935 distinctly made the decisions of the Federal Court and the Privy Council binding on all courts in British India and in this way the doctrine of Stare Decisis gained statutory recognition in India. However, the Federal Courts were not bound by their own decisions. Post-independence, the doctrine of precedent continues to be followed in India.

Article 141 of the Constitution of India, 1950 establishes that the ‘law declared’ by the Supreme Court of India is binding on all courts within the territory of India. The term ‘law declared’ implies the law-making role of the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court is not bound by its own decisions. In Bengal Immunity Co. v. the State of Bihar (1955), the Apex Court held that there is nothing in the Indian Constitution that prevents the Supreme Court from departing from its own previously made decision if it is convinced of its error and the detrimental effect such decision might have on public interest. As far as the High Courts are concerned, the decisions of the High Courts are binding on all subordinate courts within the jurisdiction of such High Courts. In the case of Suganthi Suresh Kumar v. Jagdeesham (2002), the Apex Court held that a High Court does not have the permission to overrule the decision given by the Supreme Court merely based on the ground that such decision given by the Supreme Court had laid down principles without considering any of the legal factors. Further, in the case of Pandurang Kalu Patil v. State of Maharashtra (2002), the Supreme Court had further reiterated that the decisions of the High Court shall be binding until the Supreme Court overrules them.

Doctrine of Stare Decisis under Article 141 of the Indian Constitution 

The Constitution of India, 1950 under Article 141 states that when the Supreme Court declares any law then such law shall be binding on all courts that are within the territory of India. Article 141 further states that the ratio decidendi of a case shall be binding and not the obiter dicta or the facts of the case. Thus, whenever a lower court wants to follow or apply the decision of the Supreme Court, the law laid down by the Apex Court in such a decision must be interpreted correctly in the case at hand.

Binding nature of the doctrine of Stare Decisis under Article 141 of the Indian Constitution

Non-binding nature under Article 141 of the Indian Constitution

Types of judicial precedents

Precedents and treatment by Higher Courts

For a case that has been earlier decided by a lower court, a higher court can do the following –

Doctrine of prospective overruling

Generally, the courts follow the doctrine of Stare Decisis, however, the higher courts may overrule the decisions that may be arbitrary, erroneous or which are not applicable to the facts of the new case. The court may also overrule a decision where there is divided opinion.

Further, a court can overrule a decision where such a decision is vague, lacks clarity or causes inconvenience and hardship or the error in the prior decision cannot be easily corrected only with the help of the legislative process. When an earlier decision is overruled, it no longer is a binding precedent. In a case of overruling the decision of a previous case, the re-opening of old disputes on the ground of a change in the legal standing may arise, as a consequence, a multiplicity of proceedings may also arise.


The statutes and enactments of the legislature lay down the rules to be applied in the adjudication of disputes between parties and the final authority for the interpretation of these rules is the judiciary. The doctrine of Stare Decisis makes the decisions of courts, generally, the higher courts, binding on the subordinate courts in cases wherein similar questions of law are brought before the court. The applicability of the said doctrine ensures that there is predictability and certainty within the law. The said doctrine saves the time, energy and efforts of the judiciary and helps in eliminating the arbitrary and biased action on part of the judges. The doctrine of Stare Decisis is therefore within the interest of public policy and it creates confidence in the public by ensuring that their actions are in accordance with the law.


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