What is the freedom of choice principle concerning the doctrine of precedent?

The freedom of choice principle is invoked in several

decisions of the Courts in England. In Young v. Bristol Aeroplane

Company Limited 1944(2), Lord Greene M.R. speaking for the Court of appeal, considered the issue, albeit in the context of following the coordinate Bench decisions of the Court of Appeal, and observed that the Court is unquestionably entitled to choose between the two conflicting decisions.{Para 26}

27. In Atma Ram v. State of Punjab and others, AIR 1959 SC

519, His Lordship B.P. Sinha, who spoke for the Constitution Bench of the Apex Court, implicitly acknowledged the permissibility of the

subordinate Courts invoking the freedom of choice principle.


“We are inclined to think that a five-Judge Bench of the

Supreme Court in Atma Ram v. State of Punjab, AIR 1959 SC

519 has also indicated (at p. 527) that such a task may fall

on and may have to be performed by the High Court. After

pointing out that when a Full Bench of three Judges was inclined

to take a view contrary to another Full Bench of equal

strength, perhaps the better course would have been to constitute

a larger Bench, it has, however, been observed that

for otherwise the subordinate Courts are placed under the

embarrassment of preferring one view to another, both

equally binding on them. According to the Supreme Court,

therefore, when confronted with two contrary decisions of

equal authority, the subordinate Court is not necessarily

obliged to follow the later, but would have to perform the

embarrassing task “of preferring one view to another”.

“…. We are, however, inclined to think that no blanket

proposition can be laid down either in favour of the earlier or

the later decision and, as indicated hereinbefore, and as has

also been indicated by the Supreme Court in Atma Ram

(supra), the subordinate Court would have to prefer one to

the other and not necessarily obliged, as a matter, of course,

to follow either the former or the later in point of time, but

must follow that one, which according to it, is better in point

of law. As old may not always be the gold, the new is also

not necessarily golden and ringing out the old and bringing

in the new cannot always be an invariable straight-jacket formula in determining the binding nature of precedents of coordinate jurisdiction.”

The law as enunciated in that Special Bench decision, as

quoted hereinabove, has our unqualified concurrence.”




Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation Vs Shri Laxman Seetaram Neulkar,




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