A Rose by Any Other Name: Understanding Judicial Decisions that Do Not Cite Precedent

34 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2018

See all articles by Kawin Ethayarajh

Kawin Ethayarajh

University of Toronto - Department of Computer Science

Andrew James Green

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Albert Yoon

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 2018

Abstract

In common‐law countries, legal precedent serves as a foundation of judicial opinions. Judges cite precedent to explain their decision, and it is this use of precedent that threads one decision to another. The Supreme Court in India stands in contrast to its counterparts in other countries in that it annually decides not dozens, but thousands, of cases. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly half the Court's decisions do not cite any precedent at all. This article examines this phenomenon, specifically how it affects judges’ commitment to the common law, in substance if not in form. Examining every Court decision for the period 1950–2010, we textually analyze the opinions using machine learning to determine what connection, if any, exists between cases. We find that it is possible to accurately model how the Court cites to existing precedent and that even for decisions without any citations, there is almost always at least one prior decision the Court could have cited. Our finding suggest that time and resource demands are primarily responsible for the failure to cite relevant precedent, but that the Court acts efficiently, given the constraints placed on it, in deciding in which decisions to include precedent. This research, however, leaves unanswered whether the Court provides sufficient guidance to lower courts.

Suggested Citation

Ethayarajh, Kawin and Green, Andrew James and Yoon, Albert, A Rose by Any Other Name: Understanding Judicial Decisions that Do Not Cite Precedent (September 2018). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 15, Issue 3, pp. 563-596, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3233236 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jels.12186

Kawin Ethayarajh (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Department of Computer Science

Sandford Fleming Building
King’s College Road, Room 3302
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G4
Canada

Andrew James Green

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
Canada

Albert Yoon

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
Canada

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
3
Abstract Views
236
PlumX Metrics