LWB145 Week Nine Lecture Notes
The Doctrine of Precedent Part Two
Review from Last Week
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 the earlier decision.
Some courts are not part of the appellate structure.
Certain courts are at the ‘common apex’ of different hierarchies.
We looked at per incuriam decisions.
Express or implied overruling of previous cases.
Wilful disregard of binding precedents.
Majority opinions and equally divided courts.
Previous Decisions of the Same Court
Are courts bound by their own previous decisions?
The short answer is no – the only exception being the civil division of the English Court of Appeal.
However, even though courts are not technically bound to do so, it is very rare for a court to depart from its
Supreme Court of United Kingdom
The highest court in the English court hierarchy, replacing the House of Lords as the highest court on
October 1 2009.
It is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be bound by its own previous
House of Lords
The House of Lords was initially not bound by its previous decisions.
However, this changed in 1898 when the case of London Tramways Co Ltd v London City Council  AC
375 ruled that the House of Lords was bound by its own previous decisions.
This position changed again in 1966 when a Practice Statement held that the House of Lords was not strictly
bound by its own previous decisions.
The Privy Council has never been bound by its own previous decisions, Read v Bishop of Lincoln  AC
High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia has never regarded itself as being bound by its previous decisions, Australian
Agricultural Co v Federated Engine-Drivers and Firemen’s Association of Australasia (1913) 17 CLR 261.
See Laying Down the Law pp 143-155 for examples of when the High Court might depart from its
The Full Court of Federal Court & State Courts of Appeal
The Full Court of the Federal Court and the Court of Appeals in each state are not bound by their own
previous decisions, Nguyen v Nguyen (1990) 169 CLR 245
See also pages 169 – 171 of Laying Down the Law.
The Queensland Court of Appeal held itself bound by its own decisions for a period of time, but ceased to do
so after Nguyen.
What About Single Judges?
A single judge is not bound by the decision of a fellow single judge.
This applies to single Supreme Court Justices, District Court Judges and Magistrates.
See La Macchia v Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (1992) 110 ALR 201 at 204: “The doctrine of stare decisis does not, of course, compel the conclusion that a judge must always follow a
decision of another judge of the same court...But the practice in England, and I think also in Australia, is that
“a judge of first instance will as a matter of judicial comity usually follow the decision of another judge of
first instance...unless he is convinced that the judgment was wrong”’.
Appellate Courts in Other Jurisdictions
It may be an oversimplification to think of previous decisions as either binding or merely persuasive.
MacAdam and Pyke refer