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obiter dictum and ratio decidendi

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The more common term for "obiter dictum" used by lawyers is "dicta." It is any part of a court opinion that is not necessary to reach the determination in the case. Dicta statements in a court opinion are given less weight because they are not tied to the holding of the case and thus it is assumed the court put less thought into them. The more common term for "ratio deciedendi" is the "holding" of the case. This is the statement of law in case on which the outcome is determined. The holding of the case is the law of the case and, if it is in an appellate decision, is the also a statement of law that binds the lower courts in future cases until overturned or reversed.

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According to dictionary.com,

Obiter dictum: "an incidental or supplementary opinion by a judge in deciding a case, upon a matter not essential to the decision, and therefore not binding as precedent."

Ratio decidendi: "the principle or rule constituting the basis of a court decision."

Frankly, while dicta or dictum is used occasionally by lawyers, these terms are not really used anymore. I seem to recall one of my professors in law school talking about different kinds of dicta, but this sort of thing is purely of academic interest.

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I disagree agree slightly with PG. While it is true that lawyers rarely distinguish between types of dicta anymore, the basic term "dicta" does have continuing use, at least in the state where I practice and in federal tax law. Certainly the formal Latin terms "obiter dictum" and "ration decidendi" are archaic and no longer used by the vast majority of practicing lawyers.

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"I disagree agree slightly with PG. While it is true that lawyers rarely distinguish between types of dicta anymore, the basic term "dicta" does have continuing use."

I don't think we disagree. I said "dicta or dictum is used occasionally by lawyers." :-)

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It is a legal phrase which refers to the legal, moral, political, and social principles used by a court to compose the rationale of a particular judgment. Unlike obiter dicta, the ratio decidendi is, as a general rule, binding on courts of lower jurisdiction--through the doctrine of stare decisis. Certain courts are able to overrule decisions of a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction--however out of interests of judicial comity they generally try to follow co-ordinate rationes.

The process of determining the ratio decidendi is a correctly thought through analysis of what the court actually decided – essentially, based on the legal points about which the parties in the case actually fought. All other statements about the law in the text of a court opinion – all pronouncements that do not form a part of the court’s rulings on the issues actually decided in that particular case (whether they are correct statements of law or not) -- are obiter dicta, and are not rules for which that particular case stands.

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