Courtesy of Flickr user steakpinballThe first time I heard the words "stare decisis" was my in my first term at law school in a rainy corner of England. My tutor explained that stare decisis is an accepted legal convention by which courts are bound by previous decisions they have made and by those of higher courts – also known as binding precedent.
The purpose of this principle is to ensure legal certainty and fairness for litigants. It also means there is a built-in check on judicial activism, so that society is less likely to end up with 'Judge made law'.
In United Kingdom courts, stare decisis is an accepted convention in judicial decision-making, and is only occasionally challenged. So, as a lawyer working on whistleblowing issues in the UK, I was very interested to come across this term several years after law school when I attended The Matthew Fogg Symposia on the Vitality of Stare Decisis in America in October, an event sponsored by the National Forum of Judicial Accountability (NFoJA) and GAP at the University of Baltimore.
The relationship between whistleblowing cases and stare decisis is not a connection that I have made while practicing in the UK. While there have been moments of judicial activism in UK courts (most notably, Lord Denning sitting in the Court of Appeal during the 1970s), our courts will generally defer to Parliament and recognize that law-making should be left to the legislature. So I was surprised to attend a conference dedicated to the issue of stare decisis, and to learn that that this was problematic for US whistleblowers.