In practice today the doctrine means only that prior decisions of higher courts are binding on lower courts of the same jurisdiction, for neither the Supreme Court of Canada nor many of the provincial courts of appeal consider themselves bound by their own previous decisions. Lower courts are also free to analyse the reasons (ratio decidendi) given by the higher court and to decide, in light of the facts of the actual dispute before them, whether to apply the precedent or to distinguish the rule contained on the basis of factual differences in the 2 cases. The doctrine, within these same limits, also applies in the interpretation of statutes. Its role in Québec civil law is of less importance and is a matter of debate.
Author JOHN E.C. BRIERLEY
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