LWB145 Week Eight Lecture Notes
The Doctrine of Precedent Part One
How to Successfully Study This Topic
Read Connecting with Law Chapter 10
Read Judicial Reasoning and the Doctrine of Precedent Chapter 5 (CMD)
Read Laying Down the Law Chapter 6 (CMD)
Read the Study Guide material for Weeks 8 and 9
Listen to the Lecture and print out the PowerPoint Slides
What is the Doctrine of Precedent?
It is the principle that two similar cases should be decided alike.
Judges rely on the Doctrine of Precedent to help reach a decision in the case before them.
Which courts bind which other courts?
If a court is bound to follow a decision of another court, what part of the decision must be followed?
See Telstra Corporation v Treloar (2000) 102 FCR 595 at 602 (page 117-118 of Laying Down the Law) outlines
four rationales for the Doctrine of Precedent:
The Appearance of Justice
Precedent in 30 Seconds
A court will be bound by a decision of a superior court in the same hierarchy.
A court is bound to follow the ratio decidendi of an earlier decision, but will not be bound to follow the
obiter dictum of that earlier decision.
Precedent – Basic Rules
Rule: A court is bound to follow the decisions of courts superior to it in the same hierarchy.
Authority: Broome v Cassell & Co Ltd  2 QB 354; R v Casey; R v Smythe  Qd R 132.
Textbook: Pages 72- 73 (CMD).
When is a Court Superior to another Court?
A court is superior to another court if it lies higher up in the appeal chain to the lower court.
The rationale for decisions of a superior court being binding on the lower courts in the same hierarchy is
that the superior court has the power to overrule decisions of the lower court on appeal.
Exception: the Doctrine of Precedent does not apply between the District Court and Magistrates Court even
though appeals from the Magistrates Court go to the District Court.
This is for two reasons: first, the District Court is extremely busy and often makes decisions ‘on the spot’ –
these are typically not the best decisions to set as a precedent; and second, the District Court does not
always report its cases and decisions.
Authority: Valentine v Eid (1992) 27 NSWLR 615.
A decision of a single judge of most courts – even the High Court – is not binding on the courts below.
Authority: Bone v Commissioner of Stamp Duties  2 NSWLR 651.
Textbook: Pages 77 – 78 (CMD).
Courts at the Common Apex of Different Hierarchies
The Privy Council (until 1986) and now the High Court of Australia sit at the very top or ‘apex’ of all the state
and territory jurisdict