This article was written by Namita Chandwani, a student of Indore Institute of Law.

The Latin term obiter dicta means “things said by the way,” and is generally used in law to refer to an opinion or non-necessary remark made by a judge. In a legal ruling, made by a higher court, the actual decision becomes binding precedent.[i]

When a written judicial opinion is made, it contains two elements:

(1) Ratio decidendi

(2) Obiter dicta.

Ratio decidendi is the Latin term meaning “the reason for the decision,” and refers to statements of the critical facts and law of the case. These are vital to the court’s decision itself. Obiter dicta are additional observations, remarks, and opinions on other issues made by the judge. These often explain the court’s rationale in coming to its decision and, while they may offer guidance in similar matters in the future, they are not binding. In reading a court’s decision, obiter dicta may be recognized by such words as “introduced by way of analogy,” or “by way of illustration.” Obiter dicta may be as short as a brief aside or a hypothetical example, or as long as a thorough discussion of relevant law. In either case, the additional information is given to provide context for the judicial opinion.[ii]

The judge may go on to speculate about what his decision would or might have been if the facts of the case had been different. This is an obiter dictum. The binding part of a judicial decision is the ratio decidendi. An obiter dictum is not binding in later cases because it was not strictly relevant to the matter in issue in the original case. However, an obiter dictum may be of persuasive (as opposed to binding) authority in later cases.[iii]

A trouble emerges in that, in spite of the fact that the judge will give reasons behind his judgment, he won’t generally say what the ratio decidendi is, and it is then up to a later judge to “elicit” the ratio of the case. There may, in any case, be contradiction over what the ratio is and there might be in excess of one ratio.

 In a judgment conveyed by a court, what part is a binding precedent of reference as is applicable in order to be exact with respect to what is at last awaiting suggestion to different courts. What the court chooses, for the most part, is ratio decidendi or rule of law which it is an authority. As against people, not parties to suit or proceeding general rule of law that is ratio decidendi is restricting. The rule of law or ratio decidendi is that what is connected and followed up on by the Courts. The tenets of law or proportion decidendi are produced by judges and are in this manner creature of courts. The ratio must be created by judges while choosing cases before them. Articulation made by passes judgment on when giving addresses are proclamations made in additional legal limits and is in this manner not binding. Over the span of judgment a judge may mention objective facts not absolutely pertinent to decide the issue. These perceptions are obiter dicta and are having no coupling expert yet are none the less imperative. These obiter dicta are useful to excuse law just to propose answers for issues not yet chosen by the Court. Any ratio decidendi are amiable to qualification on various certainties and consequently where the importance thereof are broadened , confined, recognized or clarified , the most recent interpretation of ratio decidendi in later cases moves toward becoming specialist to these condition of realities and in that sense. The rule of law in view of speculative certainties is simple obiter dicta and in this manner not binding.

The Role of Ratio Decidendi in Judicial Precedent

Ratio decidendi plays a vital role in judicial precedents as it is the legal guideline underlying the choice in a specific case. Thus, it makes the judicial precedent for future cases and is thought about the most imperative part of a judge’s discourse. A judicial precedent, which is case law, has been and still is a noteworthy source of law. The decisions from past cases make law for future judges to take after. The English law framework is based on the Latin principle of stare decisis, which signifies ‘stand by what has been decided and don’t try to change it,’ i.e. follow the common law, don’t attempt to change it. There are extraordinary sorts of precedents- original, binding and pervasive.

Hierarchy Rule

The choice made by the Supreme Court, Specifically the ratio decidendi must be followed by every single inferior court (stare decisis). The Supreme Court does anyway have the privilege to leave from its past choice when it seems acceptable to do as such. The Supreme Court has the privilege to overrule or turn around any choice made in the English lawful framework. Overruling would, for the most part, happen when the past court applied the law or incorrectly on the grounds that the later court finds the rule of law utilized in the ratio decidendi no longer alluring. Switching would happen in case of a higher court upsetting on interest of the choice made by a lower court hearing the appeal. The court would then substitute its own particular choice.

Difference between Ratio decidendi and Obiter dictum

The term ‘ratio decidendi’ contains the law in the precedent. ‘Obiter dicta’ are of little legal authority. At best they amount to persuasive precedents. The `obiter dicta’ of the English Courts in the State may command a high persuasive effect at the subordinate Courts, still, it has only a persuasive effect, and no, binding effect. But the ‘ratio decidendi’ are binding authorities.[iv]

                     Ratio decidendi                 Obiter dictum   
1.      Salmon defines: “the ratio decidendi may be described roughly as the rule of law applied by and acted on by the court, or the rule which the court regarded as governing the case.

2.      Ratio decidendi is more authoritative than obiter dictum.

1.      An obiter dictum is an announcement made by a judge in course of his judgment which may not be unequivocally applicable to the issue before him.

2.      Obiter dictum has no such binding authority.

The Apex Court in the case of Arum Kumar Agrawal v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 2011 SC 3056) held that obiter dicta is a mere observation or remark made by the Court, by way of aid, while deciding the actual issue before it. The mere casual statement or observation “which is not relevant, pertinent or essential to decide the issue in hand”, the Court said, did not form the part of the judgment of the court and had no authorities value.[v]

Thus it can be well concluded by mentioning that obiter dictum is an opinion not necessary to a judgment and is an observation as to the law made by a Judge in the course of a case, but not necessary to its decision and therefore of no binding effect it is a ‘remark by the way’. It is the ratio decidendi which has the binding effect and the precedent value.[vi]


[i] Obiter Dicta, Legal dictionary (Sept. 22, 2018, 06:13 PM) https://legaldictionary.net/obiter-dicta/

[ii] Obiter Dicta, Legal dictionary (Sept. 22, 2018, 06:13 PM) https://legaldictionary.net/obiter-dicta/

[iii]Obiter Dicta, Legal Bites (Sept. 22, 2018, 07:03 PM) https://www.legalbites.in/obiter-dicta/

[iv] Define and Distinguish Between Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta, Infipark (Sept. 22, 2018, 08:15 Pm) http://www.infipark.com/articles/define-distinguish-ratio-decidendi-obiter-dicta/

[v] Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta, Welcome to IILS Blog (Sept. 22, 2018, 07:30PM)https://www.iilsindia.com/blogs/2017/06/24/ratio-decidendi-obiter-dicta/

[vi] Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta, Welcome to IILS Blog (Sept. 22, 2018, 07:30PM)https://www.iilsindia.com/blogs/2017/06/24/ratio-decidendi-obiter-dicta/

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