DOCTRINE OF PRECEDENTS PART-2

HOW PRECEDENTS ARE USED BY JUDGES OF SUBORDINATE COURTS

According to article 141 of constitution of India, decisions of supreme court are binding on high courts. But two questions which arise are as follows:

  1. In case conflicting opinion between two benches, decision of which bench is to be followed as binding precedent? The supreme court in a number of decisions has dealt with this conflict. In a case when there is a conflict between the decisions of two benches, it is logical that the decision of the larger bench would be taken recourse to by the high court. The courts can even try to reconcile the diversity of both the decisions, casting away any general observation, if it is possible. But in case of completely conflicting opinions expressed by both the benches, the decision by the larger bench is given more accord. In Mattulal v. Radhelal[1], the final Court itself was faced with two directly contradictory judgment and Bhagwati, J., speaking for the Bench in following the earlier judgment in preference to the later one observed as follows “Now there can be no doubt that these observations made in Smt. Kamla Soni’s case[2], are plainly in contradiction of what was said by this Court earlier in Sarvate T. B.’s case [3]. It is obvious that the decision in Sarvate T. B.’s case was not brought to the notice of this Court while deciding Smt. Kamla Soni’s case or else this Court would not have landed itself in such patent contradiction. But whatever be the reason, it cannot be gain said that it is not possible to reconcile the observations in these two decisions. That being so, we must prefer to follow the decision in Sarvate T. B.’s case as against the decision in Smt. Kamla Soni’s case, as the former is a decision of larger Bench than the latter. Moreover, on principle, the view taken in Sarvate T. B.’s case commends Itself to us and we think that is the right view.”
  2. In case of conflicting views between the decisions rendered by the co-equal Benches of the Apex Court, which view is to be followed by the High Court as a binding precedent? If two conflicting decisions of the apex court directly apply and relate to a case in consideration, delivered by co-equal benches it becomes a situation of conflict and confusion. Some cases decided by the high courts, have given important guidelines for avoiding this confusion. In Jabalpur bus operatothers association versus state of Madhya Pradesh[4], firstly preference should be given to a decision which directly decides the dispute between the parties. A precedent which impliedly decides the dispute the parties can be referred to in the case of absence of a case which directly refers to the disputes involved. If both cases are directly related then a case of another conflict arises. In Vasant Tatoba Hargude v. Dikkaya Muttaya Pujari[5]. it is held that in case of conflict between earlier and later decisions of Supreme Court, each consisting of equal number of Judges, later decision prevails. However, learned Judges do not record any reasons for taking this line of decision.

CONCLUSION

Salmond wrote for the doctrine of precedents: “In favour of the present practice, it is said that the practice is necessary to secure the certainty of law, predictability of decisions being more important than the approximation to an ideal; and the very unsatisfactory decisions can be reversed for the future by statute.” [6]The current practice gives certainty, conformity and avoidance of unnecessary delay. The doctrine is compulsory for efficient working of courts but it has some of its own set of difficulties.

Justice in its fullest sense requires certainty through practice of doctrine of precedents as well as development of law through rejection of erroneous, badly argued decisions, or outdated decisions which could not keep up with the pace of societal development.

The doctrine of stare decisis and precedent should be applied very meticulously and selectively by courts of law. Overdependence on this doctrine could affect the development of jurisprudence. Applying the doctrine of precedents cannot be taken up as a mechanical process, where only similarity and differences matter. There is also a substantial need to allow creativity and adaptability, while at the same time ensure that arbitrariness must not creep in the system. We cannot be so rigid that we throttle the development of law, to keep it certain. The future conformity of law also depends on the fact, that how well suited it is for the circumstances which arise. It cannot be considered a science, where an absolute result can be derived from the observations.


[1] Mattulal v. Radhelal, AIR 1974 SC 1596.

[2] Kamala Soni v. Rupalal Mehra, AIR 1969 NSC 186. 

[3] Sarvate T.B v. Nemichand, 1966 MPLJ 26. 

[4] JABALPUR BUS OPERATOTHERS ASSOCIATION VERSUS STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH, LNIND 2002 MP 401.

[5] Hargude v. Dikkaya Muttaya Pujari, AIR 1980 Bombay 341.

[6] Sir John William Salmond, Salmond On Jurisprudence.( London :Sweet & Maxwell 1966). 

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