Explain the nature of judicial precedent. To what extent are precedents absolutely binding?

The doctrine of judicail precedent is the rule under which the decisions of the higher courts of this country are binding in similar cases on the decisions of the inferior courts. It is not the entire decision which is binding, however, only that part which constitutes the ‘ratio decidendi’ of the case, i.e. the statement of law made by the judge on such of the particular facts before him as he considers relevant; the rest of the judgement does not form part of the ‘ratio decidendi’ and is not binding on any other court. It is known as ‘Miter dicta’ things said in passing or by the way.

A court is only bound to follow an earlier judgement if the decision came from a higher court. The decisions of the Kenya Court of Appeal are absolutely binding on all other courts in this country. The Court of Appeal however is not bound by its previous decision, although in general it will keep to the rules of precedent.

The High Court is bound by the decisions of the Court of Appeal, but a judge of a High Court is not bound by the decisions of his brother judges. Inferior courts e.g. Resident Magistrates’ Courts, District Magistrates’ Courts’ Kadhis’ Courts, are bound by the precedents of all superior courts but establish no precedents themselves.

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