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PRECEDENTS. the decision of courts of justice; when exactly in point with a
case before the court, they are generally held to have a binding authority,
as well to keep the scale of justice even and steady, as because the law in
that case has been solemnly declared and determined. 9 M. R. 355.
2. To render precedents valid, they must be founded in reason and justice; Hob. 270; must have been made upon argument, and be the solemn decision of the court; 4 Co. 94; and in order to give them binding effect, there must be a current of decisions. Cro. Car. 528; Cro. Jac. 386; 8 Co. 163.
3. According to Lord Talbot, it is "much better to stick to the known general rules, than to follow any one particular precedent, which may be founded on reason, unknown to us." Cas. Temp. Talb. 26. Blackstone, 1 Com. 70, says, that a former decision is in general to be followed, unless "manifestly absurd or unjust,", and, in the latter case, ii is declared, when overruled, not that the former sentence was bad law, but that it was not law.
4. Precedents can only be useful when they show that the case has been decided upon a certain principle, and ought not to be binding when contrary to such principle. If a precedent is to be followed because it is a precedent, even when decided against an established rule of law, there can be no possible correction of abuses, because the fact of, their existence renders them above the law. It is always safe to rely upon principles. See Principle; Rewon. de 16 Vin. Ab. 499; Wesk. on Inst. h.t.: 2 Swanst. 163; 2 Jac. & W. 31; 3 Ves. 527; 2 Atk. 559; 2 P. Wms. 258; 2 Bro. C. C. 86; 1 Ves. jr. 11; and 2 Evans Poth. 377, where the author argues against the policy of making precedents binding when contrary to reason. See also 1 Kent, Comm.475-77; Liv.Syst. 104-5; Gresl. Ev. 300; 16 Johns. R. 402; 20 Johns. R. 722; Cro. Jac. 527; 33 H. VII. 41; Jones, Bailment, 46; and the articles Reason and Stare decisis.