Ratio decidendi

Ratio decidendi

"Ratio decidendi" (plural: rationes decidendi) is a Latin phrase meaning "the reason (or "ratio"nale) for the decision."

The "ratio decidendi" is::" [t] he point in a case which determines the judgment" [See Black's Law Dictionary, page 1135 (5th ed. 1979).] or:"the principle which the case establishes." [See Barron's Law Dictionary, page 385 (2d ed. 1984).] It is a legal phrase which refers to the legal, moral, political, and social principles used by a court to compose the rationale of a particular judgment. Unlike "obiter dicta", the "ratio decidendi" is, as a general rule, binding on courts of lower jurisdiction--through the doctrine of "stare decisis". Certain courts are able to overrule decisions of a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction--however out of interests of judicial comity they generally try to follow co-ordinate rationes.

The process of determining the "ratio decidendi" is a correctly thought through analysis of what the court actually decided – essentially, based on the legal points about which the parties in the case actually fought. All other statements about the law in the text of a court opinion – all pronouncements that do not form a part of the court’s rulings on the issues actually decided in that particular case (whether they are correct statements of law or not) -- are "obiter dicta", and are not rules for which that particular case stands.


The deft deployment of the "ratio decidendi" is one of the most powerful weapons in the lawyer's armoury. With a proper understanding of the "ratio" of a precedent, the advocate can in effect force a lower court to come to a decision which that court may otherwise be unwilling to make, considering the facts of the case.

The search for the ratio [nale] of a case is akin to a process of mindreading; one searches the judgment for the abstract principles of law which have led to the decision and which have been applied to the facts before the court. As an example, the "ratio" in "Donoghue v. Stevenson" would be that a person owes a duty of care to those who he can reasonably foresee will be affected by his actions.

All decisions are, in the common law system, decisions on the law as applied to the facts of the case. Academic or theoretical points of law are not usually determined. Occasionally, a court is faced with an issue of such overwhelming public importance that the court will pronounce upon it without deciding it. Such a pronouncement will not amount to a binding precedent, but is instead called an "obiter dictum".

"Ratio decidendi" also involves the holding of a particular case, thereby allowing future cases to build upon such cases by citing precedent. However, not all holdings are given equal merit; factors that can strengthen or weaken the strength of the holding include:

* Rank of the court (Supreme Court versus an appellate court).
* Number of issues decided in the case (multiple issues may result in so called, multi-legged holdings)
* Authority or respect of the judge(s)
* Number of concurring and dissenting judges
* New applicable statutes
* Similarity of the environment as opposed to the age of the holding.

The ability to isolate the abstract principle of law in the vehementlyClarifyme|date=March 2008 pragmatic application of that abstraction to the facts of a case is one of the most highly prized legal skills in the common law system. The lawyer is searching for the principles which underlined and underlay the court's decision.


The difficulty in the search for the ratio becomes acute when, as is often the case in the decisions of the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords, more than one judgment is promulgated. A dissenting judgment on the point is not binding, and cannot be the ratio. However, one will sometimes find decisions in which, for example, five judges are sitting the House of Lords, all of whom purport to agree with one another but in each of whose opinions one is able to discern subtly different ratios. An example is the case of "Kay v. Lambeth LBC", on which a panel of seven of their Lordships sat, and from whose opinions emerged a number of competing ratios, some made express by their Lordships and others implicit in the decision.

Another problem may arise in older cases where the "ratio" and "obiter" are not explicitly separated, as they are today. In such a case, it may be difficult to locate the "ratio", and on occasion, the courts have been unable to do so.

Such interpretative ambiguity is inevitable in any word-bound system. Codification of the law, such as has occurred in many systems based on Roman law, may assist to some extent in clarification of principle, but is considered by some common lawyers anathema to the robust, pragmatic and fact-bound system of English law.


ee also

*Ratio legis

External links

* [http://www.ebc-india.com/lawyer/articles/87v4a5.htm Radio Decidendi and Common Cause v. Union of India]

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  • ratio decidendi — ra·tio de·ci·den·di / rā shē ˌō ˌde sə den ˌdī, rā ˌshō , ˌdā sē den dē/ n [Latin, grounds for deciding]: the principle or rule constituting the basis of a court decision Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996. ratio deciden …   Law dictionary

  • Ratio decidendi — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Ratio decidendi es una expresión latina, que significa literalmente en español razón para decidir o razón suficiente . Hace referencia a aquellos argumentos en la parte considerativa de una sentencia o resolución… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Ratio Decidendi — (lat. „Entscheidungsgrund“) steht für Rechtsansichten in einer Gerichtsentscheidung, die für die Entscheidung tragend sind. Gegensatz ist das obiter dictum. Siehe auch: Präzedenzfall, Ratio Kategorien: Recht (England und Wales)RechtsspracheRecht… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ratio decidendi — Die ratio decidendi (lateinisch) steht für Rechtsansichten in einer Gerichtsentscheidung, die für die Entscheidung tragend sind. Gegensatz ist das obiter dictum. Siehe auch: Präzedenzfall, Ratio …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • ratio decidendi — ˌdesə̇ˈden(ˌ)dē noun (plural rationes decidendi) Etymology: Latin : the reason or ground for a judicial decision …   Useful english dictionary

  • ratio decidendi — noun A judicial decision on a point of law as opposed to an obiter dictum which is merely a judicial opinion. See Also: obiter, obiter dictum …   Wiktionary

  • ratio decidendi — /ˌreɪʃioʊ deɪsəˈdɛndaɪ/ (say .raysheeoh daysuh denduy) noun Law 1. the decision in a case and the facts material to it. 2. the principle upon which a case is decided. {Latin: reason for deciding} …  

  • ratio decidendi — /reysh(iy)ow desadenday/ The ground or reason of decision. The point in a case which determines the judgment …   Black's law dictionary

  • ratio decidendi — The reason for deciding; the reasoning or principle, or ground upon which a case is decided …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • Ratio — This article is about the mathematical concept. For the Swedish institute, see Ratio Institute. For the academic journal, see Ratio (journal). For the philosophical concept, see Reason. For the legal concept, see Ratio decidendi. The ratio of… …   Wikipedia

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