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Precedent is the principle in law of using the past in order to assist in
current interpretation and decision-making. Precedent does not dictate how a
new case should be decided, but it can be very important in establishing, by
reference, how courts in general have viewed a particlar law or a type of
circumstance viewed in a legal setting.
There are two kinds of precedent in law; custom and case law.
Long-held custom which has traditionally been recognized by courts and
judges is the first kind of precedent. Custom can be so deeply entrenched in
the society at large that it gains the force of law. There need never have
been a specific case decided on the same or similar issues in order for a
court to take notice of customary or traditional precedent in its deliberations.
The other type of precedent is case law. This type of precedent is granted
more or less weight in the deliberations of a court according to a number of
factors. Most important is whether the precedent is "on point," that is,
does it deal with a circumstance identical or very similar to the
circumstance in the instant case? Second, when and where was the precedent
decided? A recent decision in the same jurisdiction as the instant case will
be given great weight. Next in descending order would be recent precedent in
jurisdictions whose law is the same as local law. Least weight would be
given to precedent which stems from dissimilar circumstances, older cases
which have since been contradicted, or cases in jurisdictions which have
Precedents viewed against passing time can serve to establish trends, thus
indicating the next logical step in evolving interpetations of the law. For
instance, if women have been enjoying greater and greater equality under the
law, then the next legal decision on that subject may serve to bring still