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obiter dictum


Definitions of obiter dictum

something said in a judgment that is not essential to the decision and which is not binding precedent

The court's statement concerning liability was merely obiter dictum and hence not binding on the judge in the present dispute.

Hello I'm Robyn and welcome to TransLegal's lesson of the week. Today we will be talking about the Latin phrase "obiter dicta". Now this expression literally means "said by the way" or "statements made in passing" and the phrase obiter dicta describes statements, remarks or observations made by a judge in a ruling that are tangential or supplementary in deciding the case, that is, they refer to matters that are not essential to the decision. Although they're included in the body of the opinion, these statements are not themselves legally significant, that is, the judgment of the court would stand on its own without them. The reason that they're there is to clarify the legal principle which the judge proposes to apply in his or her judgment. So these statements, illustrations or analogies that make up obiter dicta, are not binding although they can be strongly persuasive because they let us know what the judges are thinking and how they might decide in other cases that have slightly different facts. Now the weight given to obiter dicta usually depends on the seniority of the court and the eminence of the judge in question. So for instance, dicta from the late great British Judge, Lord Denning, could be extremely persuasive. Now the term obiter dicta is actually plural. The less common singular form is obiter dictum. This phrase is usually shortened as merely dicta or dictum in both the US and the UK, however, sometimes we see the phrase shortened as obiter, but my suggestion to you is to use the full phrase "obiter dicta" whenever you want to talk about statements which are made in passing by a judge. Thank you for listening. I hope this was helpful. We welcome your comments in the box below.