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For example the case of Northwood Solihull established that S213 prescribed information certificates from corporate landlords must be executed in line with the companies act. Following this judgment people were able to retroactively apply it to unduly executed certificates that preceded the precedent. If this case precedent later got overturned on appeal following many cases that the earlier verdict's precedent had enabled, can these posterous cases' rulings also be reversed?

In other words, suppose that following Northwood Solihull Alice claims against her landlord ACME Inc under HA2004s214 for improperly executed confirmatory certificate under prescribed information order 2007. She is awarded her s214 claim. Then Northwood Solihull gets overturned on appeal. Is ACME Inc entitled to claim their penalty amount back from Alice (and then what of costs?)

If not, then if a breach occurred after the original Northwood Solihull ruling but before the appellate overturning one, can it still be claimed on after the appellate ruling is given but before its relevant limitation period of 6 years expires?

Why or why not, and isn't this inconsistent?

2 Answers 2

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Generally speaking, a final civil case judgment can't be modified or altered by later changes in the law. The case cannot be reopened once it is final.

There is an exception which is a process by which one can seek to have an otherwise final judgment reopened, for example, because no service of process was ever served so that the defendant never had notice of the case's existence, or because the case was brought in a court that didn't have jurisdiction to hear that kind of case, or because of irregularities in the case leading to entry of the judgment not too long after it was entered. But most grounds for doing so that don't go to the court's jurisdiction or a clerical error, are strictly time limited. I am unable to cite chapter and verse of the procedural rule governing reopening a judgment.

On the other hand, if the recently entered judgement was still in the process of being directly appealed to a higher court, the issue posed by the change in the law could usually be raised in the appeal.

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  • What's the difference between cases that are considered instantiations of law and cases that make law themselves in common law? Sep 21 at 23:52
  • Great answer but would you mind addressing paras 3&4 of the question too? Sep 21 at 23:54
  • @JosephP. I can't follow that part of the question well enough to address it. If feel like I'm missing context.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 22 at 3:32
  • @JosephP. "What's the difference" There isn't a difference.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 22 at 3:34
  • Okay with the comment I guess i was trying to say why do some cases seem to bind others and get cited a lot while other cases are bound and determined by those? Sep 22 at 8:43
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If this case precedent later got overturned on appeal following many cases that the earlier verdict's precedent had enabled, can these posterous cases' rulings also be reversed?

In theory, yes. In reality, no. The system of precedent in England and Wales values stability on the principles of stare decisis (deciding like cases accordingly, unless they are distinguished in some way) and res judicata (where it is generally held that a litigated matter cannot be re-opened except in exceptional circumstances). The relevant appeal courts are therefore likely to be extremely disinclined to re-open every case as the general principle is that while the precedent can be overturned and affect subsequent cases, previously decided cases that are not presently in front of an appeals court are kept closed to avoid unsettling the justice system (this is res judicata in action).

Imagine how unstable the law would be if every reversal of precedent required all previously decided cases to be re-opened and re-decided in line with the new precedent. The justice system would never know peace, and litigants and society in general would not know legal certainty which is a cornerstone of England's legal system.

Is ACME Inc entitled to claim their penalty amount back from Alice (and then what of costs?)

No, for the reasons given above. What ACME Inc could do instead is file a new case against Alice, citing the reversal of precedent. That would neatly sidestep the issue and make costs the matter of the present case, rather than fiddling about with the past.

if a breach occurred after the original Northwood Solihull ruling but before the appellate overturning one, can it still be claimed on after the appellate ruling is given but before its relevant limitation period of 6 years expires?

Yes, but it is open to the Court to hold that a successful claim is not in the interests of justice or acceptable on public policy grounds, so it is not guaranteed that the claimant would prevail.

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    Functus officio would apply if it were the same judge re-examining their previous decisions. Arguably a new court would be constituted for a re-hearing. I agree that the doctrine of res judicata applied, but my statement on stare decisis was referring to the principle of precedent more generally. :-)
    – Matthew
    Nov 26 at 22:36

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