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Related to Legal precedent: Stare decisis, Persuasive precedent


Law a judicial decision that serves as an authority for deciding a later case



in law, a decision delivered by a court in a specific case, the opinion for which becomes a rule that is binding on all courts of the same or lower instance in deciding analogous cases. Soviet law does not recognize precedent and does not permit the decision of criminal cases by analogy, holding that the judicial decision should be based on statutory law alone.

In some countries, including Great Britain, most of the states in the United States, Canada, and Australia, legal precedent is recognized as a source of law and lies at the foundation of the entire legal system. In accordance with the prevailing doctrine in these countries, the judge who creates a legal precedent does not create a legal norm but only formulates that which follows from the common principles of law inherent in human nature. In reality the judge may always reject the application of precedent, citing some insignificant features of the particular case in order to introduce an entirely new rule. The judge also has the freedom to interpret precedent and to select from an enormous number of precedents; in other words, there is an enormous potential for judicial discretion and arbitrary legal actions. In legal writing and in practice, systems of law based on precedent are often called systems of judge-made law.

In a number of bourgeois countries, including France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Belgium, precedent is important for deciding questions of the application of law, filling gaps in the law, and recognizing custom and commercial practices. On the basis of precedent, existing legislation is supplemented, and statutory law is interpreted.

References in periodicals archive ?
A legal precedent was set when a court order was granted restraining the father of two girls from having them forcibly circumcised.
Setting legal precedent when it comes to copyright, Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq: ADBE) has announced that its case against pirate reseller, One Stop Micro d.
BiblioTech says it rejected an opportunity to settle out of court earlier this year after Benchmark Printing refused to cease sending spam to other companies and instead chose to let the court decide to set a legal precedent.
In addition, there is a lack of legal precedent for many cyberspace issues.
The ISP said it regretted the fact that it did not get the chance to set an anti-spam legal precedent in the UK courts, but it had had no choice but to accept the settlement under new civil procedure rules.
The ruling could give historians a legal precedent to open other grand jury records.
The power of legal precedent makes it easy to erase the specifics of the case.
The aim is to establish a legal precedent for punishing "fetal homicide.
The first step in this process entailed establishing legal precedent, which extensive research provided.
Determine the IRS Position: A company's tax staff and advisers should determine exactly the nature of the proposed deficiencies being asserted as well as what facts and legal precedent the agent is relying upon.
A green campaigner preparing a fresh appeal against the pounds 180m second Tyne tunnel has warned that losing his case could set a worrying legal precedent.
Meanwhile, in British Columbia, Evelyn Martens claims that there is overwhelming support for physician-assisted suicide; she hoped the dismissal of charges against her would set a legal precedent (Toronto Star, October 12, 2004).