Source: p 102, How the Law Works, by Gary Slapper

With so many rules and slightly different interpretations of them in thousands of cases, it is not always easy to see which interpretation of the law a court will give in your case. This uncertainty is increased by the ability of the judiciary to select from what is often a wide range of precedents, and to distinguish earlier cases on their factswhere this would otherwise lead to an unjust result in the view of the judge ♦.

I'm contending with where, this and otherwise. Please explain the thought processes behind how to determine the answers here and resolve the ambiguity ?

1. What's the antecedent of where here? Is this use correct? Why not a relative pronoun of the form "preposition + which" ?

2. What's the antecedent of this ?

3. What does otherwise mean? I don't understand the last relative clause (surrounded with lozenges ♦)

Thanks to StoneyB's answer, I tried to recapitulate it:

2. this = distinguish earlier cases on their facts

3. otherwise = opposition to 2, so this would otherwise => "failing to distinguish ..." (the exact words of user StoneyB)

1 Answer 1


The phrase you have emphasized is in fact badly written; it cannot be satisfactorily parsed as it stands; but its meaning is clear.

  • Where is not problematic here: it is not a relative but a locative. It may be paraphrased "in cases in which".

  • This however is missing its referent, which must be inferred from otherwise. To do 'otherwise' than to distinguish earlier cases on their facts would be to follow the precedent without such distinction, and that is the implied referent. Thus:

to distinguish earlier cases on their facts where failing to distinguish would lead to an unjust result ...

In other words, in cases where following precedent would lead to an unjust result a judge may ignore the precedent if he can point to a significant difference between the facts on which the precedent case was decided and the facts in the case before him.


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