Obiter Dictum Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Obiter Dictum?

Remark or a comment made by the judge while making a decision in a case that is not of much importance or a part of the main matter but can be made as it is related to the case or has some legal value.

History and Meaning of Obiter Dictum

Obiter dictum comes from the Latin term that means "said in passing." It refers to a statement a judge makes while delivering a ruling, which although not wholly relevant to the matter at hand, can offer guidance or precedent for similar cases. This term confuses many people because obiter dictum makes references to the legal principle while making insignificant or anecdotal comments.

Judges are known to use obiter dictum in their rulings, often as the final passage of a judgment. Obiter dictum can be persuasive in future cases, but it has no legal authority and is not binding.

Examples of Obiter Dictum

  1. In a case involving a breach of contract, a judge notes that the plaintiff could have acted in bad faith by failing to communicate their dealings with the defendant before taking legal action. Although this statement does not directly affect the ruling, it identifies the underlying facts of the case, providing guidance for future cases where parties act in bad faith.

  2. During a case involving a shareholder dispute, the judge observed obiter dictum that while majority shareholders have the power to pass resolutions, they must act in good faith towards other shareholders. Although this remark is not decisive, it offers guidance on shareholder rights and can establish a precedent for future cases.

  3. In a case where the accused pleads insanity or diminished capacity to commit a crime, the judge may state obiter dictum that medical evidence and expert witnesses are necessary to substantiate such claims. Although this observation does not affect the verdict, it offers guidance for future cases that require medical evidence.

Legal Terms Similar to Obiter Dictum

  1. Ratio decidendi: This legal term refers to the primary reason or rationale for a judicial decision. Unlike obiter dictum, ratio decidendi is binding and has legal authority.

  2. Stare decisis: It is a maxime that guides courts to follow legal precedents established by higher courts. Stare decisis provides certainty and consistency in legal decisions.

  3. Dictum: Dicta are comments made by a judge on legal principles, but they are not directly relevant or necessary to the decision. They offer insight and guidance but do not have the same legal authority compared to ratio decidendi.