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Judicial precedent: Cases

Understand how judicial precedent is implimented with our cases from throughout history here.

Cases: For judicial precedent

R v R – there was a judicial statement from 1736 which suggested that a husband could not be guilty of raping his wife because by marrying him the wife had given her body and all her property to her husband. In this case the husband and wife had separated and the husband attacked and raped his wife. He used the 1736 statement as a defence. The House of Lords decided that the statement no longer applied in the 20th century and updated the law to convict the husband. This decision was confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1994 to make marital rape an offence.

British Rail v Herrington - there was a precedent from Addie v Dumbreck in 1929 which stated that owners of land are not liable for an injury to a trespasser. A 5 year old boy was electrocuted when he came into contact with the electrified third rail after climbing through a broken fence which British Rail were aware of. The House of Lords imposed a duty of common humanity on British Rail and to allow a claim for compensation by the injured boy. They considered that social conditions had changed since 1929 to require a change in the law. Their decision was later confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1984 imposing civil liability on owners of land against trespassers

Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority – a mother challenged the decision of a doctor to provide contraceptive advice to her young daughter without the mother’s consent. There was no parliamentary law on this topic and no previous similar case had been heard by the courts. The House of Lords decided that such advice could be given provided the girls were able to understand the issues involved. This became a precedent for future similar cases.

Airedale NHS Trust v Bland - a victim of the Hillsborough disaster was left in a persistent vegetative state. The doctors and his family applied to the court for an order that he should be allowed to die as there was no prospect of him regaining consciousness. There was no parliamentary law on this topic and no previous similar case had been heard by the courts. The House of Lords decided that such an order could be made provided the death was by an omission – a failure to treat –rather than by a positive act. This became a precedent for future similar cases.

Cases: Against judicial precedent

R v Brown – a group of sado-masochistic homosexuals carried out harmful activities on each other. When charged with ABH and GBH they pleaded the defence of consent. Their appeal against conviction was heard by the House of Lords. In a very long judgement three of the judges decided they should be guilty of criminal offences and two argued they should not be guilty. All judges came to their decisions for different reasons.

R v R – a judicial statement from 1736 suggested that a husband could not be guilty of raping his wife because, by marrying him, the wife had given her body and all her property to her husband. In this case the husband and wife had separated and the husband attacked and raped his wife. He used the 1736 statement as a defence. The House of Lords decided that the statement no longer applied in the 20th century and updated the law to convict the husband. When he attacked his wife the law from 1736 was in place so what he did was technically not a crime at the time. Also it required his appeal to be heard by the House of Lords to bring about a change in the law.