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Obiter dicta

Latin for “things said by the way” – observations by a judge or court about a point of law which may be interesting but do not form part of the decision in the case. An obiter dictum does not have precedential value and is not binding on other courts.

In a law report, the headnote may include, after a summary of the ratio decidendi (the reason for the decision, which sets a precedent), an obiter comment by the court or by a particular judge. Where the obiter dictum comes from the court, it is expressed as per curiam. When it comes from a particular judge, the word per appears before the judge’s name.

By way of an example of the first, in AMT Futures Ltd v Marzillier, Dr Meier & Dr Gunter Rechtanswaltsgesellschaft mbH [2015] EWCA Civ 143; [2015] QB 699, the headnote contains the following observation, which is not determinative of the case (which was about whether the English courts had jurisdiction to decide a case about alleged tort and where the harm from it occurred):

“Per curiam. There is much to be said for the determination of what is in essence an ancillary claim in tort for inducement of breach of contract to be made in the court which the contract breaker agreed should have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of that contract, rather than in the courts of the country where the inducement and breach occurred. However, the governing law of the relationship between the former clients and the claimant (which did not have to be that of England and Wales) is not a determining factor in the allocation of jurisdiction under the Regulation (post, Court of Appeal judgments, paras 57, 66, 67).”

By way of an example of the second, in Van Aken v Camden London Borough Council [2002] EWCA Civ 1724; [2003] 1 WLR 684, the headnote contains a recommendation which, again, is not determinative of the case (about filing documents), but was worth reporting and drawing to people’s attention (or in this case the attention of the rule committee):

Per Ward LJ. The Civil Procedure Rule Committee might wish to reconsider paragraph 5.3(6) of the Practice Direction supplementing CPR Pt 5, which treats a document delivered by fax after 4 pm as being filed on the next day, since every fax has the time of its receipt printed upon it and there can be no uncertainty about when it is received (post, para 60).”


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