What Can Be Learned From a Legal Opinion?

Full Question:

What information can be obtained from reading a legal opinion?
07/06/2010   |   Category: Courts   |   State: Massachusetts   |   #22596

Answer:

The answer will depend on the facts in each opinion. It generally will give a reasoned conclusion of the legality of a matter based on the application of legal analysis in the context of the facts and common law or other law (i.e. statutory, administrative regulation, local ordinance, etc.) that applies. Common law is the system of deciding cases that originated in England and which was latter adopted in the U.S.. Common law is based on precedent (legal principles developed in earlier case law) instead of statutory laws. It is the traditional law of an area or region created by judges when deciding individual disputes or cases. Common law changes over time.

The doctrine of precedent, a fundamental principle of English Law is a form of reasoning and decision making formed by case law. It says that precedents not only have persuasive authority but also must be followed when similar circumstances arise. Any principle announced by a higher court must be followed in later cases. In short the courts are bound within prescribed limits by prior decisions of superior courts. Judges are also obliged to obey the set-up precedents established by prior decisions. This legal principle is called Stare decisis.

Adherence to precedent helps achieve two objects of the legal order. Firstly it helps to maintain a system of stable laws. This stability gives predictability to the law and affords a degree of security for individual rights. Secondly it ensures that the law develops only in accordance with the changing perceptions of the community and therefore it more accurately reflects the morals and expectations of the community.