Constitution Check – Stare Decisis

The concept of stare decisis is an important one for our law. The concept is simple - the decisions of a higher court are binding on the lower courts and cannot be easily changed.

The Supreme Court of Canada and Stare Decisis – R. v. Comeau [2018] 1. S.C.R

The concept of stare decisis is a very important one for our law. The concept is simple – the decisions of a higher court are binding on the lower courts. This is an essential element of legal interpretation, because it brings predictability to the law. A legal question that has been decided stays decided. This binding precedent is described:

[26] Common law courts are bound by authoritative precedent. This principle — stare decisis — is fundamental for guaranteeing certainty in the law. Subject to extraordinary exceptions, a lower court must apply the decisions of higher courts to the facts before it. This is called vertical stare decisis. Without this foundation, the law would be ever in flux —subject to shifting judicial whims or the introduction of new esoteric evidence by litigants dissatisfied by the status quo.

R. v. Comeau [2018] 1 S.C.R.

It is possible to get a court to reconsider established precedent, but it is rare, and requires that society or the circumstances must have changed substantially. The court writes:

[31] Not only is the exception narrow — the evidence must “fundamentally shif[t] the parameters of the debate” — it is not a general invitation to reconsider binding authority on the basis of any type of evidence. As alluded to in Bedford and Carter, evidence of a signifi cant evolution in the foundational legislative and social facts — “facts about society at large” — is one type of evidence that can fundamentally shift the parameters of the relevant legal debate: Bedford, at paras. 48-49; Carter, at para. 47. That is, the exception has been found to be engaged where the underlying social context that framed the original legal debate is profoundly altered

R. v. Comeau [2018] 1 S.C.R.

Basically, the no court can ignore binding precedent from a higher court except in very narrow and rare circumstances. The whole decision can be found here: