Ratio Decidendi


Ratio Decidendi is one of the old and important aspect used while deciding a case. It is nothing but the point in a case that is used to determine the judgement. It can also be defined as “rationale for the decision”. It played an important role in English courts in deciding cases.


Doctrine of precedent is the basic concept one should be aware before learning Ratio Decidendi in depth. Precedent is the judgement decided by courts on reasons analysed and the further cases of similar facts result in similar judgement.
Doctrine of Precedent is an important part in English Legal System. Knowing how it works and why it is important is an essential thing for an law aspirant. This is based on a Latin phrase State Decisis, which means “stand by the previous”. English Courts are obliged to follow the previous decisions of higher courts with more or less well defined limits. Doctrine of Precedent refers to the previous judgement made by the higher court are remained as or equal English Courts. English Courts believed that this might bring certainty to English legal system.

The legal judgement made has to provide two types of states. They are Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dictum.


Ratio Decidendi is the rule of law upon which the decision is founded. It is a Latin phrase which even played a major role in Indian courts through English legal system before Independence. It is an important part of the training of a lawyer. This is not a mechanical process. Ratio decidendi is the art-aquried through the practice and study.
Ratio decidendi can be defined as material facts of the case and the decision thereon. This ratio decidendi is extracted by finding material facts.


To understand clearly we can consider an example. In a case-1 A,B,C are facts wherein B,C are material facts and X is the final decision. In a case-2 A,B,C,D are facts. So the decision can be X referring to case-1 or else the decision can be changed referring to fact D.

Material facts are the facts which helps in decision of further related cases. In a case where a red haired driver called Smith drove negligent and committed a crime on Friday the term negligent becomes the material fact whereas the rest are known as immaterial facts.

Wilkinson v. Downton [1897]

In this case the defendant made a joke to Mrs Wilkinson that her husband met with an accident at Elms pub in which both of his legs were broken. So the defendant asked Mrs Wilkinson to go the spot with two pillows to bring him home. Hearing this news Mrs Wilkinson was shocked and her nerve system was damaged which resulted her to suffer for weeks. Mrs Wilkinson appealed court for compensation for her illness and suffering due to false representation made by the defendant.

In this case the address at which plaintiff lives, address where her husband was lying are considered as immaterial facts. The fact of lying is the main material fact. Particular lie will be material only when it was the sort of lie that was likely to frighten and cause physical harm to the plaintiff. Here the true ratio of the case is “wilfully doing an act, which is calculated to and does cause physical harm”.
If a person who is dressed like a ghost and puts fireworks under someone’s chair to threaten, doubtlessly comes under Wilkinson v. Downton case. A

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nother application of the principle occurs where the harm operates directly on the plaintiff’s body not in directly through the mind.
The term Ratio decidendi is slightly ambiguous. The rule that the judge who decided the case is intended to lay down and apply to the facts. The rule that the later court concedes him to have had the power to lay down.


Abstraction is picking out certain qualities and relations from the facts of experience. It is important for a lawyer to extract the material facts from the whole facts of the case. This helps in using the ratio decidendi for further cases. It  comes through the perception of similarities between individual facts and all languages and all thinking depend upon it.
There are three types of abstraction. They are narrow, wider and more wider. Higher the abstraction, wider the ratio decidendi. The ascertainment of Ratio decidendi of a case depends upon a process of abstraction.


Obiter Dictum is contrast to Ratio Decidendi. It is known as “by the way”. Obiter dictum is unlike ratio decidendi, it does not bind upon future courts. It is respected according to the reputation of the judge, eminence of the court and the circumstances in which the case is pronounced.
For example, in Wilkinson v. Downton case the argument that the plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for the tort of deceit is known as obiter dictum. Obiter dictum is also a kind of Ratio decidendi. It is constructed out of the facts of the case and the decision is rested upon it. If a judge says :
I decide for the defendant, but if the factors had been properly pleaded I should have found for the claimant

Then the factors which the judge mentioned as if , those factors become obiter dictum of that case. Obiter dictum can also be referred to the term sub silentio which means under silence or in silence. It is the reference to something that is implies but not expressly stated. Supreme court would probably regard its own decision sub silentio as binding on the court of appeal.

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Ratio decidendi and Obiter dictum are two types of states of Doctrine of Precedent, which are contrasting to each other. Ratio decidendi is the reason for the decision. Whereas the Obiter dictum is the fact which is not binded upon future courts. These both factors played an vital role in the English legal system. These are believed to provide a certainty to the law and set up the hierarchy structure of the court system.

Author: Duvvuru Sravya Reddy,
Ifim Law School, 1st year, BBA LLB student

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