Is the Supreme Court of India bound by its own decision?/Is the High Court bound by the decision of another High Court ?

In India, the decisions of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are binding over their subordinate courts.

A judicial precedent is a judicial decision to which authority has in some measures been attached (Keeton). The traditional view of the function of an English Judge that it is not to make law but to decide cases in accordance with the existing legal rules gives rise to the doctrine of binding precedent whereby the judge is bound to apply the rules of law contained in those decisions.

The operation of the doctrine depends upon the hierarchy of the courts. A court is bound by the decisions of a court above itself in the hierarchy and, usually, by a court of equivalent standing. In India, the decisions of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are binding over their subordinate courts.

The authority of the Supreme Court decisions as precedents, is enshrined under Art. 141 of the Constitution – “The law declared by the Supreme court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India”.

Also Read Doctrine of Stare Decisis

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The decisions of the High Courts have not been invested with the authority of any enactment. But it is well settled that the courts subordinate to a High Court are bound by its decisions. Again, a single Bench of a High Court is bound by the decisions of a Division Bench of that court and a Division Bench by the decision of a Full Bench (except that the latter Division Bench has the right to refer the case to a Full Bench for reconsideration of the earlier decision in the event of the disagreeing with the view of the former Division Bench). However, the decision of a High Court has only persuasive authority outside the territory subject to its jurisdiction (Law Commission, 14th Report). Thus, a High Court is not bound by the decision of another High Court.

Decisions given by the High Court are binding on tribunals viz CAT (Shreedharan Kallat v Union of India AIR 1996 SC 640).

Supreme Court not bound by its own decisions

The Supreme Court of India is not bound by its own decision. It can overrule its own decisions. For instance, ‘right to die’ once considered as unconstitutional was recognised as an implied fundamental right by the Supreme Court and now, again, recently, declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The expression ‘all courts, in the territory of India’ (Art. 141) clearly means courts other than the Supreme Court. In Bengal Immunity Co. v State of Bihar (AIR 1955 SC 661), the Supreme Court observed: “The Supreme Court should not lightly dissent from its previous decisions. Its power of review must be exercised with due care and caution and only for advancing the public well being in the light of surrounding circumstances of each case brought to its notice, but it is not right to confine its power within rigidly fixed limits. If on a re-examination it comes to the conclusion that the previous majority decision was plainly erroneous then it will be its duty to say so and not perpetuate its mistake”.

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