Obiter Dicta Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Obiter Dicta, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Obiter Dicta?

Words of opinion or remarks expressed by the judge when making a decision in a case which are of a minor importance to the case and are not compulsory to be expressed but can be made as explanation,criticism or ideas.

History and Definition of Obiter Dicta

Obiter dicta is derived from the Latin phrase "obiter dictum," which means a remark in passing. The term refers to the extraneous or gratuitous observations made by a judge in a court decision that are not relevant to the outcome of the case. These statements do not form part of the binding precedent and are merely incidental or casual comments made by the judge.

Although obiter dicta are not binding, they may have persuasive value in later cases. The remarks may provide guidance on the interpretation of a particular law or issue, or present an alternative point of view that may be considered by other courts. However, since obiter dicta are not essential to the decision, they need to be read carefully and considered in context.

Examples of Obiter Dicta

  1. In a case involving the rights of a transgender student, a judge states that the concept of gender is not limited to biological considerations but includes social and cultural factors. This statement, while not essential to the outcome of the case, may guide future courts in determining the scope of gender rights.

  2. A judge commenting in a criminal case states that the defendant's actions were "reprehensible" and "despicable." While these remarks may reflect the judge's personal opinion, they do not form part of the legal reasoning for the decision and are therefore obiter dicta.

  3. In a case involving freedom of speech, a judge opines that the internet is the most important platform for the exercise of this right in the modern age. This observation, although not strictly necessary for the judgment, may influence future cases dealing with the regulation of online speech.

Legal Terms Similar to Obiter Dicta

  1. Ratio decidendi - the legal reasoning for a judgment or decision that forms the binding precedent.
  2. Holding - the legal determination or decision that resolves the main issue in a case and forms the basis for the judgment.
  3. Dictum - a remark, opinion, or statement made by a judge during a case that is not essential to the decision, but has persuasive value.