SC on Difference Between Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta

The distinction between obiter dicta and ratio decidendi in a judgment, as a proposition of law, has been examined by several judgments of this Court, but we would like to refer to two, namely, State of Gujarat & Ors. vs. Utility Users’ Welfare Association & Ors. and Jayant Verma & Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors..

The first judgment in State of Gujarat (supra) applies, what is called, “the inversion test” to identify what is ratio decidendi in a judgment. To test whether a particular proposition of law is to be treated as the ratio decidendi of the case, the proposition is to be inversed, i.e. to remove from the text of the judgment as if it did not exist. If the conclusion of the case would still have been the same even without examining the proposition, then it cannot be regarded as the ratio decidendi of the case.

In Jayant Verma (supra), this Court has referred to an earlier decision of this Court in Dalbir Singh & Ors. vs. State of Punjab to state that it is not the findings of material facts, direct and inferential, but the statements of the principles of law applicable to the legal problems disclosed by the facts, which is the vital element in the decision and operates as a precedent. Even the conclusion does not operate as a precedent, albeit operates as res judicata. Thus, it is not everything said by a Judge when giving judgment that constitutes a precedent. The only thing in a Judge’s decision binding as a legal precedent is the principle upon which the case is decided and, for this reason, it is important to analyse a decision and isolate from it the obiter dicta.

Supreme Court
Career Institute Educational Society vs. Om Shree Thakurji Educational Society, Special Leave to Appeal (C) Nos. 7455-7456/2023
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