Judicial opinions

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Judicial opinions are a form of legal opinion written by a judge or a judicial panel in the course of resolving a legal dispute, providing the decision reached to resolve the dispute, and usually indicating the facts which led to the dispute and an analysis of the law used to arrive at the decision.


The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904)[edit]

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 127-131.
  • Year-books, books written of the law of England, and judgments in Parliament, are three of the authorities, and they are thesauri aperti. Judicial records and precedents are the fourth, and they are thesauri absconditi.
    • Lord Coke, Case of the Marshalsea (1612), 10 Rep. 75.
  • I cannot help observing, that many of those who have written in support of our ancient system of jurisprudence, the growth of the wisdom of man for so many ages, are not as they are alleged by some to be men writing from their closets without any knowledge of the affairs of life, but persons mixing with the mass of society, and capable of receiving practical experience of the soundness of the maxims they inculcate.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., King v. Waddington (1800), 1 East, 157.
  • It is certainly true that from the reign of Edward VI. to the end of the reign of James I., many decisions will be found turning on many nice points, and many now apparently frivolous objections have been entertained, but it was not because the Judges who graced the bench in those days were inferior, either in intellect or in learning, to those who now sit on it; in the last, I fear, they would be found our masters; but it is because a greater liberality of sentiment now prevails in the decisions of Courts of justice.
    • Gibbs, C.J., Croydon Hospital v. Farley (1816), 6 Taunt. 479.
  • To be sure the Court regularly adheres to regular judgments, if in the support of the merits and justice; but if against the merits and justice they always get rid of the mere formality of them; but they do it upon terms.
    • Lord Mansfield, Lord Mexborough v. Sir John Delaval (1773), Lofft. 310.
  • Lord Chief Justice Gibbs used to say that he could get authorities in the Year-Books for any side in any thing.
    • Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Chancellor, said in the course of the argument of a celebrated case of the House of Lords: Gray v. The Queen (1844), 11 Clark & Finnelly, 441.
  • This Court is bound to adhere loyally to former decisions unless clearly satisfied that they are wrong. But, if we are satisfied that a former decision is clearly wrong, and not warranted by law, we ought not blindly to follow it: and I am satisfied that the Court has acted upon that principle on more than one occasion. … I agree also that the Court should use the utmost circumspection in overruling a case which has been acted upon for several years, and especially after subsequent legislation upon the subject, which has left the decision untouched.
    • Brett, J., Hadfield's Case (1873), L. R. 8 Com. PL Ca. 318, 320.
  • It is my misfortune to differ in opinion from some decisions of this Court, not from captious motives, but from a conscientious conviction, that those decisions are not founded upon the true principles of law and justice; and therefore I feel it my duty to endeavour to effect a restoration of the law to its true constitutional and legitimate standard1: when I shall be told by the highest Court of Judicature in this kingdom, assisted by the other Judges of Westminster Hall (as I suppose that assistance would be called in), that the decisions I oppose are right; I shall then acquiesce and conform to them.
    • Wood, B., Bennett v. Beale and others (1811), Wightw. 330.
  • It is the duty of the Court not to alter a decision brought in review before it, merely because another view, perhaps as good, may be presented. In matters involving discretion it is often very difficult to say with certainty which decision is right.
    • Sir John Stuart, V.-C, Wilcox v. Marshall (1867), L. R. 3 Eq. Ca. 272.
  • Judgments are in their nature equal till they are reversed, in what Court soever they are obtained; a judgment in a Court of record by grant, is equal to a judgment in a Court of record by prescription; and a judgment in a Court piepoudre is equal to a judgment in any of the superior Courts.
    • Eldon, L.C., Mo rice v. Bank of England (1736), 3 Swanston, 575.
  • Judicia posteriora sunt in lege fortiora: The later decisions are the stronger in law.
    • 8 Co. 97.
  • Judiciis posterioribus fides est adhibenda : Credit is to be taken to the later decisions.
    • 13 Co. 14.
  • I have often said, and I repeat it, that the only thing in a Judge's decision binding as an authority upon a subsequent Judge is the principle upon which the case was decided: but it is not sufficient that the case should have been decided on a principle if that principle is not itself a right principle, or one not applicable to the case; and it is for a subsequent Judge to say whether or not it is a right principle, and, if not, he may himself lay down the true principle. In that case the prior decision ceases to be a binding authority or guide for any subsequent Judge, for the second Judge who lays down the principle in effect reverses the decision.
    • Jessel, M.R., Osborne to Rowlett (1880), L. R. 13 C. D. 785.
  • Decisions are to be followed as precedents.
    • Leach, M.R., Walsh v. Wallinger (1829), Tamlyn's Rep. 429.
  • Judicial opinion has varied a great deal, and must vary a great deal, when you consider the ground upon which that judicial opinion or those judicial opinions have been founded.
    • Jessel, M.R., Besant v. Wood (1879), L. R. 12 C. D. 620.
  • It is the principle of the decision by which we are bound, not a mere rule that in exactly the same circumstances we are to arrive at the same conclusions. Therefore to say that the decisions are wrong in point of principle, if that principle was clearly laid down, does not relieve us from the obligation of following the principle of the decision, because the whole theory of our system is, that the decision of a superior Court is binding on an inferior Court and on a Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction, in so far as it is a statement of the law which the Court is bound to accept.
    • Sir W. M. James, L.J., Merry v. Nickalls (1872), L. R. 7 Ch. Ap. Ca. 750.
  • Judicial decisions in Courts of justice are ranked by Lord Hale as one of the grounds or constituents of the common law.
    • Nicholas Conyngham Tindal, L.C.J., Balme v. Hutton (1833), Moore & Scott's Rep. 61, referring to Hale's "History of the Common Law," c. 4.
  • A considerable part of the law of England consists of judicial decisions, and in the very nature of things this must be so. Every decision upon a debated point adds a little to the law by making that point certain for the future.
    • Stephen, J., Reg. v. Coney and others (1882), 15 Cox, C. C. 58.
  • It is very dangerous for a Judge who does not agree with particular decisions, to deal in distinctions from those decisions.
    • Jessel, M.R., In re International Pulp and Paper Co.; Knowles' Mortgage (1877), L. R. 6 C. D. 559.
  • I think that the proper and safe course is to follow a decision of a Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction, unless some cogent reason is given to the contrary.
    • Kekewich, J., Evans v. Manchester, &c. Rail. Co. (1887), L. J. (N. S.) 57 C. D. 157.
  • It is a matter of great difficulty to a Judge who disapproves of a decision to be quite sure that he is honestly distinguishing the case in which it was given from the case before him. Of course, the inclination of his mind is to find every distinction sufficient, and therefore he must be particularly on his guard to see that he does not unfairly distinguish with a view to getting rid of the original decision. I have tried in every instance before me to be thus on my guard, but whether I have succeeded or not will be for others to say.
    • Jessel, M.R., Smith's Case (1879), L. R. 11 C. D. 587.
  • I will have it done, that it may remain a decision in perpetuam rei memoriam.
    • Holb, C.J., Tutchin's Case (1704), 14 How. St. Tr. 1101.
  • A great deal of difficulty has been caused in the administration of the law, and particularly of the common law, by decisions in which technical rules have been formulated which were not true—that is, were not in accordance with the facts of the case.
  • When we find a series of decisions running down from the time of Sir William Grant, we should be very cautious, and very slow to overrule them.
  • A series of decisions based upon grounds of public policy, however eminent the Judges by whom they were delivered, cannot possess the same binding authority as decisions which deal with and formulate principles which are purely legal.
    • Lord Watson, Nordenfelt v. Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company (1894), L. R. App. Ca. Part 5, p. 553.
  • A collection of records may be the result of professional knowledge, research, and skill, just as a collection of curiosities is the result of the skill and knowledge of the antiquarian or virtuoso.
    • Bowen, L.J., Lyell v. Kennedy (1884), L. R. 27 C. D. 31.
  • I must look at the decision with reference to all the circumstances which led to it.
    • Kekewich, J., In re England (1895), L. R. 2 C. D. [1895], p. 109.
  • Where there is a decision precisely in point, it is better to follow it.
    • Lord Eldon, Townley v. Bedwell (1808), 14 Ves. 596.
  • The headnote is the fair epitome of the decision.
    • Kekewieh, J., Ashworth v. Roberts (1890), L. J. Rep. (N. S.) 60 C. D. 28.
  • Mankind naturally give evidence to the constituted Courts, and reputation is incurably damaged by their decisions, whether erroneous or not.

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