Legal Maxim

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Literal Meaning

By the way




The maxim refers to a passage in a judicial opinion which is not necessary for the decision of a case before the court. Such statements lack the force of precedent but may nevertheless be significant. In general terms, Obiter Dictum is an incidental and collateral opinion that is uttered by a judge but is not binding while deciding a case. It can be passing comments, opinions or examples provided by a judge. In a legal ruling, made by a higher court, the actual decision becomes a binding precedent. Remarks about such things as to how the court came to its decision are not binding, and it is to these that the term refers. The sole reason for such statements is that they are only to clarify the legal principle which the judge proposes to apply in his or her judgment. Such remarks are only ought to offer guidance in similar matters in the future but are not binding.

A written judicial opinion consists of two elements:

  1. Ratio Decidendi
  2. Obiter Dicta

The Latin maxim Ratio Decidendi means ‘the reason for the decision,’ it refers to statements of the critical/vital facts and law of the case. On the other hand, Obiter Dicta are additional observations, remarks, and opinions on other issues made by the judge while deciding the case. Such additional information is given to provide context for the judicial opinion.


If a court dismisses a case due to lack of jurisdiction and offers opinions on the merits of a case, then such opinions of the court constitute obiter dicta.


A purchased a washing machine from B’s company. However, A was disappointed, when the washing machine stopped working, even before completing a month of purchasing. Having been told that the appliance had a one-year warranty against manufacturer defects, A attempted to make a claim to have her washing machine repaired or replaced. However, B’s company denied the claim, saying that A had not responded with a message saying she had accepted the company’s terms and conditions for warranty service, and therefore held that she was not eligible for the warranty services. Subsequently, A filed a civil lawsuit in an attempt to hold B’s company responsible to fulfill the warranty.

The court passed the decision in favor of A and while pronouncing the judgment, the court gave an example that “If I lost my dog, and advertised that I would pay Rs 10,000 to anyone who brought the dog to my home, could I deny the reward to the neighbor who found and returned him, on the basis that he hadn’t written to me formally accepting my offer? Of course not.”

The above example that the court has given is referred to as obiter dicta, since it is not crucial to the court’s ruling but was given only by way of explanation.

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