Monday, 1 June 2020

Whether a decision which is neither reversed nor overruled can cease to be precedent?

 Doctrine of precedent is a well-accepted principle. A ruling is generally considered to be binding on lower courts and courts having a smaller Bench structure.

"A precedent influences future decisions. Every decision is pronounced on a specific set of past facts and from the decision on those facts a rule has to be extracted and projected into the future. No one can foresee the precise situation that will arise, so the rule has to be capable of applying to a range of broadly similar situations against a background of changing conditions. It has therefore to be in general terms and 'malleable'... No word has one proper meaning, nor can anyone seek to fix the meaning of words for others, so the interpretation of the rule remains flexible and open-ended. (See Dias Jurisprudence, 5th Edition, page 136)"
356. However, although a decision has neither been reversed nor overruled, it may cease to be 'law' owing to changed conditions and changed law. This is reflected by the principle 'cessante ratione cessat ipsa lex'.

"...It is not easy to detect when such situations occur, for as long as the traditional theory prevails that judges never make law, but only declare it, two situations need to be carefully distinguished. One is where a case is rejected as being no longer law on the ground that it is now thought never to have represented the law; the other is where a case, which is acknowledged to have been the law at the time, has ceased to have that character owing to altered circumstances. (See Dias Jurisprudence, 5th Edition, page 146-147)"
357. It is the latter situation which is often of relevance. With changes that are bound to occur in an evolving society, the judiciary must also keep abreast of these changes in order that the law is considered to be good law. This is extremely pertinent especially in the current era of globalization when the entire philosophy of society, on the economic front, is undergoing vast changes.


Civil Appeal Nos. 3017 of 1997 and 2696-2697 of 2003

Decided On: 20.11.2003

State of Punjab and Ors. Vs. Devans Modern Brewaries Ltd. 

Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
V.N. Khare, R.C. Lahoti, B.N. Agrawal, S.B. Sinha and A.R. Lakshmanan, JJ.

Citation: MANU/SC/0961/2003 : (2004) 11 SCC 26

Read full judgment here: Click here

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