HomeLegal ColumnsThe Precedential Value of Judges' Statements

The Precedential Value of Judges’ Statements

In several legal systems around the globe, Judges play a crucial role in interpretation, of law and resolving disputes. Their written and oral statements, often found in Judicial opinions, orders or decrees, form the basis for legal analysis and decision-making. These earlier judgments that serve as advice or authority in future cases are called as Judicial precedents.[1]

Judicial precedent refers to the judgments rendered by superior courts, including the High Court and the Supreme Court, in preceding cases. It holds substantial legal authority, striking a balance in terms of temporal relevance, as it is not as recent as legislation nor as ancient as tradition. As one of the most significant and autonomous sources of law, judicial precedents serve as a reminder and foundation upon which legal arguments are built. Moreover, they ensure predictability, certainty, and consistency in the application of the law, contributing to a cohesive and unified legal framework.

However, determining the precedential value of judges’ statements requires an understanding of the hierarchy of legal authority and knowledge of concepts such as Ratio Decidendi, Obiter Dicta and Stare Decisis.

Historical Background of the Doctrine of Precedent

The Doctrine of Precedent has travelled to the Indian Legal System, like many other doctrines, through the English Law and credit goes to the colonial past. The system of precedent has exerted a substantial influence on the development of common law in England. Despite limited codification efforts, the English legal system maintains a predominant reliance on precedents as a guiding force in the interpretation and application of the law. As early as 1830, Dorin, a judge of the Sadar Diwani Adalat in Calcutta, advocated for the statutory establishment of the doctrine of precedent in India.[2] Although no such rule was enacted, the doctrine of precedent became an integral part of the Indian legal system through judicial pronouncements. To a limited extent, the doctrine of precedent was statutorily acknowledged through Section 212 of the Government of India Act, 1935,[3] which expressly mandated that the decisions rendered by the Privy Council and the Federal Court would possess binding force upon the courts in India. Currently, Article 141[4] of the Constitution reinforces the binding nature of the law pronounced by the Supreme Court, extending its authoritative reach to all courts within the territorial jurisdiction of India. Therefore, in the contemporary Indian context, the judgments pronounced by the Supreme Court hold the same legal weight as legislative enactments, thus establishing the Doctrine of Judicial Precedents.

There are various kinds of Judicial Precedents which are followed in the Indian Legal System. Original Precedents are the ones that establish a new rule while Declarative precedents apply the exiting legal standard.[5] Binding precedent requires courts to adhere to prior decisions, even if a judge in a subsequent case may disagree with them. Precedent retains its binding effect unless it is determined that the earlier decision was incorrectly rendered, cannot be upheld for some other compelling reason, or is overturned by a higher court within the judicial hierarchy. The binding nature of precedent remains in force until the legislature intervenes and modifies the law through the enactment of an Act that explicitly overrides the established rule. Persuasive precedents on the other hand are not binding in nature but still taken into account in order to establish legal character and as historical sources of law. A Binding precedent, also called as Authoritative precedent, is confined to the jurisdiction of the respective High Court, while decisions rendered outside that jurisdiction are not regarded as binding. Instead, they serve as guiding or persuasive references, including textbooks and commentaries.[6] For instance, the Patna High Court is not legally bound to adhere to the decisions of the Madras High Court; it retains discretion in choosing whether or not to reference them.

Ratio Decidendi

Ratio decidendi, is a Latin maxim for “the reason for the decision,” which refers to the legal principle or reasoning underlying a court’s decision in a case. Ratio decidendi, according to Keeton, is a legal theory that serves as the foundation for a decision in a specific case.  It is the part of a judicial opinion that forms the binding precedent and guides future decisions in similar cases. Ratio is the rule of law expressly or impliedly treated by the judge as a necessary step in reaching his conclusion having regard to the line of reasoning adopted by him.


Obiter Dicta

Obiter dicta refers to statements made by a judge in a judicial opinion that are not essential to the court’s decision or the legal reasoning behind it. These statements may provide guidance or commentary on legal issues but do not form a binding precedent. Under the legal principles governing dicta, statements made by judges that are not essential to the court’s decision are considered obiter dicta. While dicta are not binding precedent, they may carry persuasive authority in subsequent cases. Generally, obiter dictum is not binding, except, the High Court’s ‘seriously considered dicta’ is binding. Obiter dictum is persuasive however it can have different degrees of weight.

Analysing the thin line between Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta

In Career Institute Educational Society v. Om Shree Thakurji Educational Society[7] the Court dismissed the special leave petition applying some principles. These Principles are, 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 the State of Gujarat v. Utility Users’ Welfare Association[8]. The Hon’ble Apex Court in the case applied what is known as “the inversion test ” to determine what constitutes a judgment’s ratio decidendi. A legal proposition must be reversed, or removed from the language of the judgement as if it never existed, in order to determine whether it should be considered the ratio decidendi of the case. It cannot be recognized as the ratio decidendi of the case if the conclusion of the case would have remained the same even without considering the proposal.

As a result, not all of a Judge’s remarks in a ruling are considered precedents. It is crucial to study a decision and separate the obiter dictum from it since the only part of a judge’s decision that is legally binding as a precedent is the principle on which the case is resolved.

Doctrine of Stare Decisis

The concept of binding precedent is encapsulated by the Latin term ‘stare decisis‘ which means to stand by what is decided. The binding precedent relies on a court hierarchy. The hierarchy aids in determining whether a specific ratio decidendi binds a particular court and whether an appellate court is bound by its own prior precedents.[9] Stare decisis is a fundamental doctrine that guides the precedential value of judges’ statements. It promotes consistency, stability, and predictability in the application of the law by requiring courts to follow established legal precedents. This is a rule in which the court would follow previous judicial decisions in future instances. As a result, when the same questions or arguments are addressed in later instances, the court will follow the findings of previous cases.[10] The Indian Constitution by way of Article 141 makes the law declared by the Supreme Court binding on all courts within the territory in India.

In the case of Suganthi Suresh Kumar v. Jagdeesham[11] the Apex Court held that a High Court does not have the permission to overrule the decision given by the Supreme Court merely based on the ground that such decision given by the Supreme Court had laid down principles without considering any of the legal factors. Doctrine of Stare Decisis builds confidence amongst the people in planning their economic and social transactions by acknowledging that their actions are in compliance with the law.

In the case of Dwarkadas v. Sholapur Spinning and Weaving Co.,[12] while dealing with the same question, it was held that there is no obligation upon the Supreme Court to follow its own decisions and can take a conflicting path if the previous decision seems to be erroneous but such power must be used diligently.

The Constitution of India, 1950 under Article 141 states that when the Supreme Court declares any law then such law shall be binding on all courts that are within the territory of India. Article 141 further makes it clear that the ratio decidendi of a case shall be binding and not the obiter dicta or the facts of the case.


In conclusion, it is evident that precedents play a vital role in the legal world, serving as significant players in lightening the load on courts. By delving beyond the mere implementation of legal principles, judges benefit from a comprehensive understanding of the core reasoning and jurisprudence behind precedents. The doctrine of stare decisis ensures that lower courts adhere to established precedents, fostering consistency and predictability in the legal system.


The hierarchical structure of the judiciary, the influence of dissenting and concurring opinions, and the ongoing evolution of legal standards all contribute to the dynamic nature of the law. While subject to critique, judges’ interpretations, reasoning, and written opinions shape the development of legal precedents, effectively responding to societal needs and aspirations.


In a nutshell, it is through the wisdom and expertise of judges that legal precedents are established, guiding the growth and adaptation of the legal system. The careful extraction of ratio decidendi from precedents by legal scholars, practitioners, and judges ensures that the broader observations are not disregarded. As we recognize the significance of precedents, we appreciate their role in maintaining the integrity and functionality of the legal framework, ultimately serving the pursuit of justice.


[1] Judicial Precedent as a Source of Law, 2.3 JCLJ (2022) 971.

[2] Jain, M. P. (1982). LAW REPORTING IN INDIA. Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 24(2/3), 560–574. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43952222

[3] Government of India Act, 1935, § 212.

[4] INDIA CONST. art. 141.

[5] SARTORIUS, ROLF. “The Doctrine of Precedent and the Problem of Relevance.” ARSP: Archiv Für Rechts- Und Sozialphilosophie / Archives for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy 53, no. 3 (1967): 343–66. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23678329.

[6] Jain, M. P. (1982). LAW REPORTING IN INDIA. Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 24(2/3), 560–574. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43952222.


[7] Career Institute Educational Society v. Om Shree Thakurji Educational Society, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 586.

[8] State of Gujarat v. Utility Users’ Welfare Assn., (2018) 6 SCC 21.

[9] Wilson, Steve & Rutherford, Helen & Storey, Tony & Wortley, Natalie & Kotecha, Birju. (2020). 5. The doctrine of judicial precedent. 10.1093/he/9780198853800.003.0005.


[11]  AIR 2002 SC 681.

[12] Dwarkadas Shrinivas v. Sholapur Spg. and Wvg. Co., 1954 SCR 674.

Law Wire Team
Law Wire Teamhttps://lawwire.in/
Law Wire Team attempts to delve into pertinent (and sometimes not immediately pertinent) questions regarding socio-politics, Law and their interesting matrix.


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