The doctrine of precedent is based on the need for certainty in the law

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The doctrine of precedent is based on the need for certainty in the law. It means that lawyers can properly advise their clients on the basis that like cases will be treated alike, rather than judges making their own random decisions which nobody could predict. This helps people plan their affairs. According to Lord Denning, ‘It is the foundation of our system of case law’. However, Denning was ‘against is its too rigid application - a rigidity which insists that a bad precedent must necessarily be followed’.

It is the doctrine’s rigidity that can prevent developments to meet the changing needs of society. However, this was recognised in the House of Lords 1996 Practice Statement.

In addition, judges in the lower courts are adept at avoiding the doctrine’s rigidity. A judge may distinguish the awkward precedent on its facts - arguing that the facts of the case under consideration are different in some important way from those of the previous case and therefore the rule does not apply.

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A precedent may be distinguished on a point of law; by arguing that the legal question answered by the precedent is not the same as that asked in the instant case.

Courts may distinguish a precedent by stating that the precedent has been superseded by more recent decisions, and is therefore outdated.

Courts may give the precedent a very narrow ratio decidendi or argue that the precedent has no clear ratio decidendi, for example because the ratio of one judge in a case is different from others in the same case.

Courts may claim that the precedent is ...

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Good essay addressing the key cases. The student should consider more contemporary themes in order to bring this essay up to date. 3 Stars,