Landmark decision

Landmark decision

A landmark decision is the outcome of a legal case (often thus referred to as a landmark case) that establishes a precedent that either substantially changes the interpretation of the law or that simply establishes new case law on a particular issue. Certain cases within this category are widely known in legal studies and may be reviewed by law students even if they have been overturned by later decisions.

The term "landmark decision" is not a formal legal term but a colloquialism, however it is in widespread use amongst legal professionals — over 5,000 published opinions of lower courts can be found identifying some precedent as a landmark decision in the field of law being addressed.

Comparison with "cause célèbre"

A landmark decision differs from a "cause célèbre" in that a case that draws public attention may not involve any substantial changes to the law or creation of new law, conversely a landmark decision may not impinge upon the consciousness of the general public.

The Lindbergh kidnapping was a sensational crime of the 1930s, which one may call a "cause célèbre". The alleged kidnapper was captured, tried and executed several years after the crime. The correctness of that death sentence is in dispute even until today. However, the legal basis of the decision itself does not involve with too much theoretical dispute. The Congress of the United States later passed the "Lindbergh Law" that made cross-state kidnapping a federal crime (otherwise, it will be a state crime). This, arguably, could have been a "landmark decision", if the Supreme Court rather than the Congress made the change (this is nearly impossible — the only way such a change could be made by a court is if an existing law could reasonably be interpreted to mean Congress intended it to have such an effect).

Criminal law was originally reserved for the states in the U.S. The Congress, with the help from the Commerce Clause, later enacted numerous federal criminal statutes. If the Supreme Court one day finds the Commerce Clause not applicable to criminal laws, it will very likely to be called a landmark decision by legal professionals.

If, for whatever reason, Bruno Hauptmann was found not to be the person who killed Charles Lindbergh's son, his case would have been called "cause célèbre" in a way similar to the famous case of Alfred Dreyfus ("see" Dreyfus affair).

Landmark decisions in Australia

:"Main articles: List of High Court of Australia cases and List of Judicial Committee of the Privy Council cases"Landmark decisions in Australia have usually been made by the High Court of Australia, although historically some have been made by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

* In 1948 the High Court of Australia found that the Chifley government's legislation to nationalise Australia's private banks was unconstitutional.
* In 1951 the High Court of Australia found that Robert Menzies' attempts to ban the Communist Party of Australia were unconstitutional.
* In 1992 "Eddie Mabo & Ors v The State of Queensland (No.2)" invalidated the declaration of terra nullius.

Landmark decisions in Canada

:"Main articles: List of Supreme Court of Canada cases and List of Judicial Committees of the Privy Council cases"Landmark decisions in Canada are have usually been made by the Supreme Court of Canada, although historically some have been made by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

Aboriginal rights

* "R. v. Sparrow", [1990] 1. S.C.R. 1075
* "Delgamuukw v. British Columbia" [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010
* "R. v. Marshall" [1999] 3 SCR 45


"R. v. Morgentaler" [1988] 1 S.C.R. 30


* "Egan v. Canada" [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513
* "Law v. Canada" [1999] 1 S.C.R. 497

Freedom of Expression

* "Ford v. Quebec (A.G.)" [1988] 2 S.C.R. 712
* "Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Quebec (Attorney General)" [1989]
* "R. v. Zundel", [1992] 2 SCR 731
* "R. v. Sharpe" [2001] 1 S.C.R. 45

Landmark decisions in the United Kingdom

:"Main articles: List of House of Lords cases"Landmark decisions in the United Kingdom have usually been made by the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords, and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. Many twentieth century examples have involved contributions from the late Lord Denning. 'Landmark decision' as a term is not usually used in England and Wales. The usual term is 'leading case'.

*"Darcy v. Allein" (1603) 77 Eng. Rep. 1260 (King’s Bench) (most widely know as "The Case of Monopolies"): establishing that it was improper for any individual to be allowed to have a monopoly over a trade.
*The "Case of Prohibitions" (1607) (Court of Common Pleas)
*"Bushel's Case" (1670) (Court of Common Pleas): establishing the principle that a judge cannot coerce a jury to convict.

*"Entick v. Carrington" (1765) 19 Howell's State Trials 1030: establishing the civil liberties of individuals and limiting the scope of executive power.

*"Tulk v. Moxhay"(1848) 41 ER 1143: establishing that in certain cases a restrictive covenant can "run with the land" (i.e. bind a future owner) in equity.
*"Hadley v. Baxendale" (1854) 9 Exch. 341 (Court of Exchequer): establishing the extent to which a party in breach of contract is liable for the damages.
*"Rylands v. Fletcher" (1868) LR 3 HL 330: establishing a doctrine of strict liability for some inherently dangerous activities.
*"Foakes v. Beer" [case citation| [1884] 9 A.C. 605] : establishing the rule that prevents parties from discharging a contractual obligation by part performance.
*"The Moorcock" 14 P.D. 64 (1889): establishing the concept of implied terms in contract law.
*"Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company" [Case citation| [1893] 1 QB 256] : establishing the test for formation of a contract.

*"Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre v. Selfridge and Co. Ltd." [case citation| [1915] A.C. 847] : confirming privity of contract: only a party to a contract can be sued on it.
*"Donoghue v. Stevenson" [case citation| [1932] S.C.(H.L.) 31] : establishing the "neighbour principle" as the foundation of the modern tort (Scottish delict) of negligence.
*"Central London Property Trust Ltd v. High Trees House Ltd" [case citation| [1947] K.B. 130] : establishing the doctrine of promissory estoppel.
*"Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation" [case citation| [1948] 1 KB 223] : estalishing the concept of Wednesbury unreasonableness for judicial review.
*"Hedley Byrne v. Heller" [case citation| [1963] 2 All E.R. 575] : establishing liability for pure economic loss, absent any contract, arising from a negligent statement.
*"Fagan v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner" [case citation| [1969] 1 QB 439] : a leading case illustrating the requirement for concurrence of "actus reus" (Latin for "guilty act") and "mens rea" (Latin for "guilty mind") in order to establish a criminal offence.
*"Ramsay v. IRC" [case citation| [1982] A. C. 300] : establishing a doctrine that ignores for tax purposes the purported effect of a pre-ordained series of transactions into which there are inserted steps that have no commercial purpose apart from the avoidance of a liability to tax.
*"Furniss v. Dawson" [case citation| [1984] A.C. 474] : establishing that tax can be levied on the results of a composite transaction, even if steps that are only there for the purpose of avoiding tax do not cancel each other out.
*"Factortame case" (1990): the European Court of Justice ruled that the House of Lords was required to suspend an Act of Parliament that infringed EC law.

Landmark decisions in the United States

Landmark cases in the United States come most frequently (but not exclusively) from the United States Supreme Court. United States Courts of Appeal may also make such decisions, particularly if the Supreme Court chooses not to review the case, or adopts the holding of the court below. Although many cases from state supreme courts are significant in developing the law of that state, only a few are so revolutionary that they announce standards that many other state courts then choose to follow.

See also

* Case citation
* Lists of case law
* Common law

External links

* [ Supreme Court Landmark Decisions] — Cornell Law School

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