article 141

The doctrine of Precedents or Article 141

Article 141 states that the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding all courts within the territory of India. Article 141 includes the common law doctrine of stare decisis. It is also known as the doctrine of precedents which means to stand by the decision already made.



The doctrine of precedents or stare decisis

The decisions that is already been taken by a higher court are binding to the lower court. It also stands as a precedent to the lower court judgment, which cannot be changed by the lower court. This gives the idea of the principle of stare decisis. This essential binding force of precedents was brought to attention in the case of Mirehouse v. Rennel (1833).

Judicial precedents are the previous decision from the court. It is taken as a basis or source of deciding the case under similar facts and circumstances. In the case, in Union of India v. Raghubir Singh, it was held:

“The doctrine of binding precedent has the merit of promoting certainty and consistency in judicial decisions. It enables an organic development of the law, besides providing assurance to the individual as to the consequence of transactions forming part of his daily affairs. And, therefore, the need for a clear and consistent enunciation of legal principle in the decisions of a Court”

Fundamentally a Supreme Court judgment has three major parts

1. The facts and the point at the issue.

2.The reasons for the decision.

3. The final order containing the decision.

It is to be noted that the reasons for the decisions of a judgment and not all final order in the judgment, forms the precedent. Therefore while implementing a decision of the Supreme Court by any other court, it is very important to understand the true principle given in the previous decision. The expressions law declared of Article 141 says that the ratio decidendi of the case is binding and not the obiter dictum and also points out that the Supreme Court does not merely interpret the law, it may also make or create law.

Binding on all courts

The statement “binding in all courts” though wide enough to contain the Supreme Court, does not include the Supreme Court itself. It is not bound by its own judgments but is free to re-consider them in appropriate cases. Whenever a law has been declared by the Supreme Court, it is the primary duty of the High Court to act in accordance with Article 141 and to apply it by giving reasons to justify whatever its view. The High Court cannot overrule the decision of the Apex Court. On the ground that the Supreme Court laid down the legal position without considering any other point.

An example is the case of Suganthi Suresh Kumar vs Jagadeeshan. In that, it was held that” It is impermissible for the High Court to overrule the decision of the SC. On the basis that the Supreme Court laid down the legal position without acknowledging any other point. It is not only a matter of discipline for the High Courts in India. Despite that, it is also the compulsory of the Constitution as provided in Article 141 that the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India.” 

Whether the Supreme Court itself is bound by its own decisions has come up for the decision of the Supreme Court in a number of cases. The general rule is that the Supreme Court is not bound by its earlier decision. In some cases, it may change its own earlier decisions.

In the case, Bengal Immunity Company vs the State of Bihar, the SC held that

“The Supreme Court is not bound by its earlier decisions and in proper cases may over-rule them.”

Overruling of a decision declaring a precedent as invalid.  

When there is a disparity between two decisions of the Supreme Court given by judges of equal strength, the decision of the later bench will be binding.

Decisions that are not considered binding under Art. 141 of Indian Constitution

There are some decisions that are not considered as a precedent or which do not have a binding effect. Those are:

  • The decision not expressed, the decision not founded on reasons, and the decision that does not proceed on consideration of the issue are not binding.
  • Obiter dicta of a case are not binding, hence it cannot be relied upon solely as a ground to hold any statutory rule incapacitated.
  • The decision “per incuriam” which means a decision given not aware of the terms of a statute or rule having the force of a statute, is not binding in nature. Hence any decision made per incuriam, is not used as a precedent.
  • The decision is passed under “sub-silentio”, and then also it is not used as precedent. It means when a point of law or a particular question of law was not consciously determined.
  • The Court’s observations on the facts of the cases are not binding.

Conclusion

It is important to note that the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. The fundamental purpose of the doctrine of precedent is that the law of the land should be understandable, absolute, and in tune so that the Courts shall follow it without any sense of doubt.   When Supreme Court decides a principle it would be the responsibility of the High Court or a subordinate Court to follow the decision of the Supreme Court. 


References: Economictimes Article-141

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Sandra Joseph
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