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What is Stare decisis : 5 things you Should Know

Table of Contents


Introduction to Stare Decisis.

You would have heard that history repeats itself. It is not just in real life that it does, it also happends in the legal world.

There are moment when similar facts reoccurs, and in determining such facts, courts are enjoined to cast it’s mind back to its previous decisions. This is how judicial precedent came to be and what is now considered as the doctrine of stare decisis.

1. Meaning of Stare Decisis

The word “stare decisis” as noted by Lawinsider is derived from latin phrase: ” Stare decisis et quieta non movere” which literally means to stand by decisions made previously, and to not disturb what is settled.

The Court in the case of Yantaba V Gov. Katsina State(2022) 1 NWLR (PT.1811) p.293 defined Stare decisis thus:


The term..denotes adherence to a previous decision of a court of competent jurisdiction in a later similar case. The term(to stand by things decided) denotes the doctrine of precedent under which a court must follow earlier judicial decisions when the same points or issues arise again in an action or case…”

The doctrine of “stare” means to stay by the decision or abide by formal precedent.In other words, when issues or point of law has been determined before by a court that is higher in hierarchy, a court lower must stand by decision when confronted with similar facts or points.

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In other words, under the doctrine as well, an inferior court is bound by the decision of a superior court. While Superior Court is bound by its earlier similar decisions until set aside.

Again, the ratio of the case is what is significant. The obiter dictum is often not considered. This is why the court in  Yantaba case supra also defined it simply:

“Stare decisis means keep to the ratio decidendi of past cases”.

The ratio decidendi is significant because it is achored on the facts before the court.

2. Types of Doctrine of Stare Decisis.

The court in Yantaba V Gov. Katsina State(2022) 1 NWLR (PT.1811) p.293-294 also defined the various types of the doctrine as follows:

a.Horizontal stare decisis.
This type of the doctrine stipulates that a court, especially appellate court, must adhere to its own prior decisions, unless there are compelling reasons to warrant it to depart from it previous decision.

b. Strict Stare decisis
This type of the doctrine states that a court need to adhere only to holdings necessary to the decision not to non-essential holdings of any kind. This type of the doctrine is also known as orthodox stare decisis.

c.Super stare decisis
This type of doctrine is predicated on the theory that a court must follow earlier decisions without considering whether those decisions were correct.

This type of the doctrine is autocratic in nature and does not give room for modification of law or golden interpretation.

d.Vertical Stare decisis

This type of of the doctrine canvases that a court must strictly follow the decisions handed down by higher courts within the same jurisdiction. Yantaba V Gov. Katsina State(2022) 1 NWLR (PT.1811) p.293-294


3. Instances where the doctrine Applies.

The doctrine is not applicable in all circumstances or matters before the court. For the Doctrine to apply, there must be similarities between the facts of the case being considered and the previous case earlier decided. See the case of OSAKWE V FCE ASABA(2010) 10 NWLR(PT.1201) P.1

The Court in the case of A.P.C v OBASEKI (2022) 2 NWLR. PT.1814.P286 held thus:

The application of any principles of law laid down, enunciated, stated and restated in earlier or previous cases depends largely on the peculiar facts and circumstances in later case. The courts do not apply the same set of principles in cases having different factual situations unless such cases are on all fours or are substantially similar with one another

Also, it is only the ratio decidendi that applies in law.The obiter dictum is not necessary in determining the fact before the court.

The difference between orbiter dictum and ratio decidendi was led down by court in Amadi v Wopara(2022) 1 NWLR (PT.1811) P.362 where the court held that there are two parts of court’s judgement:
a. Ratio decidendi (reason for deciding)
b. Obiter dictum(Something said in the passing)

The court went further:
An opinion of the court upon which no issue had been joined by the parties amounts to an obiter dictum and ratio decidendi is the principle or rule of law upon which a court’s decision is founded. The ratio decidendi is determined from facts pleaded by parties”.

4. Importance of the Doctrine

The principle of stare decisis ensure steadiness of decision of court and settlement of issues which in turn makes way for case law. See the case of Uben v Etuk(2012) 15 NWLR(PT. 1323);P.387 CA.

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The two terms are often used interchangeably. Still, precedent refers to courts previous decision while the later is a doctrine that enjoins court to abide by precedent (its earlier decisions).

5. Stare Decisis is Different from Res judicata

The word res judicata is derived from latin sentence: Res judicata pro veritate accipitur which means that once a matter has been determined by competent court, such matter should not be relitigated upon.

In res judicata, it is the same matter that is coming up for the second time, or that someone is trying to resurrect again. But the doctrine of stare, it is completely different matters but that they are similar in facts and issues.


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