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Saturday, June 16, 2018



(First Published on Volume 01 Issue 02, July 2016)

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Circumstances destroying or weakening the binding force of the precedents.
a)    Abrogated decisions- A decision ceases to be binding if a statute or a statutory rule, inconsistent with it is subsequently enacted or it is reversed or overruled by a higher court. Reversal occurs when the same decision is taken on appeal and it is reversed by the appellate court. Overruling occurs when the higher court declares in another case that the precedent case was wrongly decided and it is not to be followed.
Since overruling is the act of superior authority, a case is not overruled merely because there exists some later opposing precedents of the same court or a court with sub ordinate jurisdiction. In such circumstances the court is free to follow either precedent, whereas when the case becomes fully overruled by the full sense of word then the court becomes bound by the overruling case not merely to the disregard the overruled case but to decide the case precisely in some other way.
b)   Affirmation or reversal on a different ground-It sometimes happen that a decision is affirmed or reversed on appeal on some different grounds. In a case Hack v London Provident Building Society[1], the judgement was given on some different grounds, was deprived of all the authority, and thus becoming non-binding on the subsequent courts, being the reason to this given that the appellate court did not agree with the grounds stated by the courts below.
c)    Ignorance of statute-A precedent may become non-binding if it was rendered in ignorance of the statute or rule having the force of statute i.e delegated legislation. But the mere fact that the earlier court misconstrued the statute does not solely form the basis of the destruction of the binding force of the precedents.
d)   Inconsistency with the earlier decision of higher court-It is a clear law that the precedents loses its binding force if there is inconsistency with the earlier decision of a higher court to the judgement that was given by a lower court. Say for example, if the court of appeal decides a case in ignorance of a particular decision given by the House of Lords which actually went another way, the decision of the court of appeal is binding neither on itself nor on the lower courts.
Conclusion to Ratio Decidendi-
So, in this article, till now, we have looked at a detailed analysis of the topic Ratio Decidendi, and how deeply it is connected to the concept of precedents. Since Ratio being a reason to the decision, as to why the courts have headed towards taking a particular decision, precedents play a very important role in this whole scenario. With the help of precedents, the higher courts by taking into consideration the material facts of the case, decide the case in the same way as has (if at all be) been decided before in some different matter (being only the material facts the same). This is the reason as to why it was necessary to study even precedents in detail.
*      Detailed Analysis of Obiter Dictum:
What in general terms, we are able to understand the meaning of the term Obiter Dictum (also referred to as Obiter Dicta), is the general expression of opinion that is uttered by the judge in a court of law or in a written judgement, but that is not really binding on the court to taken that very opinion into consideration while deciding some other matter.
Following are the steps to be followed, to understand the concept of Obiter Dictum:
1.    Understanding the meaning of Obiter Dicta- As already stated above, Obiter Dicta are the general expression of the opinion that are given by a judge in the court of law, or in a written judgement, that are not binding on the same court or any other court of law, as precedents. In other words, a layman can understand the concept of Obiter, by keeping in mind that these are that part of a judgement that the court considers as a separate point altogether, about which the court expresses its opinion but does not take it as a binding force like that of the precedents. These are those points of common law that the court thinks, as to what condition would have arisen had the matter been the other way round?
2.    Noting the relevancy of Obiter Dicta in the future court decisions- Obiter Dicta can guide, enlighten and perform the duty of informing future case reasoning, but they are not binding on the court. Thus the future court does not follow anything that has been stated as an Obiter in the previous court case. Subsequent courts can out rightly dismiss the previous court case given that Obiter does not form a part of the reasoning or any sort of rule of a case. Apart from all this, even Obiter can have very influential impacts of the subsequent cases.
3.    Realise that Obiter dicta may take different forms-  Some of the commonly used Obiter Dicta, include the “what if” scenarios, which means as to identify, what will happen if at all some other situation arises and then, what would be the Obiter in that case.
This is to note that, one of the essential features of the doctrine of precedents in the common law is that, the rules of law are developed in the very process of application. This means that they are created by judges, neither by law teachers nor by some other lawyers who deal with law. Under common law, only judges possess a power that they can make different rules under law in the very process of their application that is when live facts come into light. Moreover, there is also one fact that too cannot be denied and that is- “Different rules of law are made by the judges when they are acting as judges, and not when they are acting in their extra- judicial capacity that is when deciding cases and not, for example, while giving lectures or doing some other tasks”.            Thus basically what we are, trying to say over here is that law should fundamentally result from being applies to live facts and that too when they are argued from both the sides.
In the course of judgement, a judge may however let fall various observations that are not relevant to the issue before him. He may for instance relate his reasoning with different hypothetical situations and the law which he thinks to them. There would be conditions that may arise to a judge while deciding a case that he may not think it necessary to pronounce different points upon which a judgement could be taken, when that judgement has been taken on one point only. But there may also be cases when the judge might want to indicate as to how he would decide the case when the other factors, that were missed this time, were taken into consideration. Here again we are not given the judge’s final decision on a live issue, so that it would once again be unwise to endow it as much authority as the actual decision. These observations by the way of Obiter Dicta, are without a binding authority, but are nonetheless important, as not only do they help in rationalising law, but, it also helps us serve suggest different solutions to the problems that are not yet decided by the courts.
Conclusion to Obiter Dicta-
Obiter Dicta and Ratio Decidendi are like two phases of the same coin. Just like Ratio Decidendi is the binding part of the coin, on the courts of law, in the same manner, Obiter Dicta is the non-binding part of that coin. Some people think that, Obiter Dicta being non-binding lacks its importance but, it is not so in reality. Obiter is as important as Ratio Decidendi. Obiter Dicta, is that part that helps us in rationalising different rules and tells us different points upon which a decision could be based had they been taken while deciding a particular matter in the court of law. This is that part that makes us understand as to how would the case be decided then, when the point or the criteria upon which a decision of the case is based, was not present.

[1] (1883) 23 Ch.D 103 at 112

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