Legal Dictionary

judicial precedent

Legal Definition of judicial precedent

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  • precedent, a principle or rule established in a legal case that a court or other judicial body may apply when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.
  • judicial precedent, (Supreme Court of Singapore)
  • stare decisis (Anglo-Latin) is a legal principle by which judges are obliged to respect the precedents established by prior decisions.

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Definition of judicial precedent

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Judicial precedent (Supreme Court of Singapore)

As the highest court of Singapore and its final appellate court, under the principles of stare decisis (judicial precedent) decisions of the Court of Appeal are binding on the High Court and Subordinate Courts. Even if judges in these courts disagree with the reasoning given by the Court of Appeal in particular cases, they are required to apply the legal principles laid down in those cases.

The Court of Appeal became Singapore's final appellate court following the abolition of all appeals to the Privy Council with effect from 8 April 1994. On 11 July that year, the Court handed down a practice statement declaring that it would regard itself free to depart from previous decisions of its own or of the Privy Council.

    in any case where adherence to such prior decisions would cause injustice in a particular case or constrain the development of the law in conformity with the circumstances of Singapore. Therefore, whilst this court will continue to treat such prior decisions as normally binding, this court will, whenever it appears right to do so, depart from such prior decisions. Bearing in mind the danger of retrospectively disturbing contractual, proprietary and other legal rights, this power will be exercised sparingly.

The Court justified this new principle on the basis that "the political, social and economic circumstances of Singapore have changed enormously since Singapore became an independent and sovereign republic. The development of our law should reflect these changes and the fundamental values of Singapore society."

Decisions of the High Court are binding on District Courts and Magistrates' Courts. However, a judge of the High Court is not bound by previous decisions by other High Court judges. As a matter of comity, though, a High Court judge will generally not depart from a previous decision unless there is a good reason to do so, particularly if that decision has stood for some time. If there are conflicting High Court decisions, it is up to the Court of Appeal to decide which decision is correct.

Where the President has referred to the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Tribunal a question concerning the Constitution's effect on a bill, no court - including the Court of Appeal - may subsequently question the Tribunal's opinion on the bill or, assuming the bill is found to be constitutional, the validity of any law based on the bill.


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