A blupete Essay

Stare Decisis, Part 3 to blupete's Essay
"The Common Law"

This idea, as expressed by Bagehot, is picked up in the law as it exists today. When a court decides a case it does so on the merits of the case before it. The court's decision is meant to only effect the rights of the parties, the litigants, before it. The court, however, is obliged to apply settled principles of law. The decision of any respected court amounts to a recap of the law needed to resolve the case before it. The law as it is used in the particular case has a universal applicability to all future cases embracing similar facts, and involving the same or analogous principles. These decisions, many being years and years old, thus became statements of law, to be applied by all courts when measuring the private and public rights of citizens. It is this stream of cases, within the arc of the great pendulum of time, which changes the banks of the law: the common law, thus, as it turns out, is a living, creeping, creature.

Do not, however, be mistaken - there, is, a conscious effort by those involved (lawyers and judges) to keep the law pure: not to change it, but to apply it. This principle is called stare decisis, Latin, which literally translated means, "stand by things decided." Stare decisis has come to us as a most sacred rule of law. A judge is to apply the law as it is presented to him through the previous decisions of the court; it is not the judge's function to make or remake the law that is the function of the legislature.4 However, judges do make law even though they try not to; indeed it is their function, under a system of common law, to do so; but not consciously and only over the course of time, many years, as numerous similar cases are heard and decided. The common law has been and is built up like pearls in an oyster, slowly and always in response to some small personal aggravation, infinitesimal layer after infinitesimal layer. It is built up upon the adjudications of courts:

"... built up as it has been by the long continued and arduous labors, grown venerable with years, and interwoven as it has become with the interests, the habits, and the opinions of the people. [Without the common law a court would] in each recurring case, have to enter upon its examination and decision as if all were new, without any aid from the experience of the past, or the benefit of any established principle or settled law. Each case with its decision being thus limited as law to itself alone, would in turn pass away and be forgotten, leaving behind it no record of principle established, or light to guide, or rule to govern the future." (Hanford v. Archer, 4 Hill, 321.)
Tyrants can only get a hold of a central system where the rules issue from a single authority (government); tyrants cannot get a hold of a system which depends on a spontaneous participation in the law-making process on the part of each and all of the inhabitants of a country, viz., a system of common law.

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2011