Taking precedents seriously: The influence of stare decisis on judicial decision-making.

Date of Award


Publication Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name



Political Science





Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


The author examines the influence of precedent on Supreme Court decision-making in Canada. Despite its importance, very little is actually known about the factors that affect judicial decision-making. The thesis begins by defining the doctrine of precedent, discusses the virtues of adhering to a policy of precedent, and provides a brief historical overview of the history of precedent in Canadian law. The author then reviews the three leading paradigms in judicial behavioural research as they relate to the influence of precedent. The legal model expects precedent to be among the most important factors that judges consider when making decisions. In contrast, the attitudinal model believes that judicial decisions are conditioned by the attitudes and preferences of the judges. The strategic model expects precedent to have some influence on judicial decision-making, in addition to other considerations. Based on the findings of previous research and the Court's jurisprudence, the author hypothesizes that, although judges frequently cite precedents to justify their decisions, it rarely influences how they decide cases. To test this, three separate studies are conducted. The first is a content analysis of the Court's judgments from 2004; the second study, which is based on the work of Brenner and Spaeth, examines of the influence of precedent in decisions that alter precedent; the third study applies the methodology developed by Segal and Spaeth to assess the influence of precedent in all cases decided since 1950. The results show, inter alia, that the majority of Justices on the Supreme Court of Canada decide cases based on attitudinal factors, and that precedent has a minimal influence on their decision-making.Dept. of History, Philosophy, and Political Science. Paper copy at Leddy Library: Theses & Major Papers - Basement, West Bldg. / Call Number: Thesis2005 .C435. Source: Masters Abstracts International, Volume: 44-03, page: 1213. Thesis (M.A.)--University of Windsor (Canada), 2005.