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In common law, the doctrine under which courts adhere to precedent on questions of law in order to ensure certainty, consistency, and stability in the administration of justice. Since no court decision can have universal application, the courts, in practice, must often decide that a previous decision does not apply to a particular case even though the facts and issues appear to be closely similar. A strict application of stare decisis may lead to rigidity and to legal hairsplitting, whereas too much flexibility may result in uncertainty.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on stare decisis, visit Britannica.com.