About Matthew Harding

Matthew Harding is an Associate Professor at Melbourne Law School. He graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1998 with first class honours degrees in law and arts. He also holds a Bachelor of Civil Law degree (with distinction) and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. Matthew has also worked as a solicitor for Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks (now Allens) in Melbourne. He joined the Law School in 2005. His published work deals mostly with issues in moral philosophy, fiduciary law, equitable property, land title registration, the doctrine of precedent, and the law of charity.

The High Court and the Doctrine of Precedent

By Associate Professor Matthew Harding

The doctrine of precedent is a fundamental constraint on judicial decision-making in Australia. The general idea behind the doctrine of precedent is that judges, when they are deciding cases, must pay proper respect to past judicial decisions. Sometimes this means that judges are bound to apply the reasoning of judges in past cases — in other words, ‘follow’ past decisions — when deciding cases that raise similar facts; sometimes it means that judges must take seriously the reasoning of judges in past cases even if they are not bound to apply that reasoning. The moral value of the doctrine of precedent is in the way it serves the political ideal of the rule of law; according to that ideal, institutions of the state, like courts, should strive to ensure that the law is developed and applied in a consistent and predictable manner, so that citizens may order their affairs with confidence as to their rights and duties. Continue reading