Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Precedent Definition:

A case which establishes legal principles to a certain set of facts, coming to a certain conclusion, and which is to be followed from that point on when similar or identical facts are before a court.

Related Terms: Stare Decisis

1. A case which establishes a novel legal principles to a certain set of facts, coming to a certain conclusion, and which is thereafter authoritative, to be followed from that point on, when similar or identical facts are before a court.

Precedents form the basis of the theory of stare decisis which prevent "reinventing the wheel" and allows citizens to have a reasonable expectation of the legal solutions which apply in a given situation.

When one talks of a Court establishing a precedent, it refers to the first such conclusion of a Court to such a set of facts.


 

2. In procedural matters, the word is also used from time to time to refer to an official court form, or a sample of a Court or other legal form or contract. For example, when one attorney asks another for a precedent on a certain matter, say a personal injury or a divorce action, they are not necessarily or likely referring in that context to a significant legal decision of judgment on divorce. What they are talking about is a standard or sample form or a boilerplate for initiating a personal injury or divorce action, which can then be used to fashion a similar document, with changes on points of detail.

Private law book publishers offer binders full of proposed precedents or "boilerplates" on virtually every type of contract or court document available.


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