Dicta Definition and Legal Meaning
On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Dicta, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.
What is Dicta?
n. Plural form of dictum.
History and Meaning of Dicta
Dicta refers to a statement or an observation made by a judge in a written or spoken opinion that is not binding as precedent or necessary to the decision of the case. It is a plural form of the Latin term "dictum," meaning "something said or stated." In legal terms, dicta generally refers to the extra commentary made by the judge that is not part of the legal ruling itself.
The use of dicta goes back to the early English common law system, where judges would often provide narrative commentary and personal opinions on legal and social issues in their judgments. Over time, the use of dicta became more formalized, and judges started distinguishing between essential statements (holding or ratio) and unnecessary comments (dicta) in their opinions.
Examples of Dicta
In a case concerning tort law, the judge stated in his opinion that while he sympathized with the plaintiff, he could not find any legal precedent for liability in the circumstances of the case. This statement is considered dicta since it was not necessary to the decision.
In a constitutional law case, the judge included a discussion on the historical context of a particular clause in the Constitution. Since the ruling focused solely on the interpretation of the clause, this commentary on history is dicta.
An appellate court mentions in an opinion that they would have decided the case differently if a different legal standard had been applied at trial. This is an example of dicta since it is not relevant to the current ruling in the case.
Legal Terms Similar to Dicta
Holding: The legal principle underlying a judge's decision that is binding as precedent in future cases.
Ratio decidendi: The legal reasoning behind a judge's decision that forms the basis for the holding.
Obiter dictum: A statement made by a judge in passing during a legal opinion that is not essential to the rationale or outcome of the case, but that may have persuasive value in future cases.