The ratio decidendi is a principle or legal rule that can help to make the law more understandable and predictable because the existing law is a complex and ever-evolving system. It can be difficult to understand how the law works and even more challenging to predict how a higher or lower court will rule in a particular case.
What Is Ratio Decidendi?
Ratio decidendi is a Latin phrase that means “the reason for the decision.” It forms the legally binding precedent element of the judgment. In the context of law, it refers to the legal principle or principles that a court uses to reach its decision in a particular case.
Specifically, this principle is part of the judgement that is binding on other courts in future cases with similar facts. In this part, the court summarises its findings of fact and law and explains its reasoning.
However, it is not always easy to identify the ratio decidendi, as courts often do not explicitly state it, but some clues can help you to determine the reason for the decision of a case, such as:
- The court’s conclusion or holding.
- The court’s reasoning for its conclusion.
- The key facts that the court found to be relevant.
- The legal principles that the court applied to the facts.
Once you have identified it, you can use it to predict how a court will have a binding authority in a future case with similar facts. This is because the ratio decidendi is binding on other courts, meaning they must follow it when deciding similar cases.
But is this rule absolute? No. The reason for the decision of a previous case is not always binding. In some cases, a court may decide to have a dissenting judgment of a previous case if it believes that the previous decision was wrong or no longer applies. This is because the law is constantly evolving, and courts need to be able to adapt the law to new circumstances.
How to Determine the Reason for Decision of the Case?
The ‘Material Facts’ Theory
Professor Lücke from University of Adelaide Law School believes that the best explanation of this principle put forth so far is Goodhart’s “material facts” theory of precedent. However, as Goodhart uses them, “material” and “facts” are inherently vague.
‘Facts’ should be taken to mean the actual facts of the precedent and applied to other cases by analogical reasoning. ‘Material,’ on the other hand, should be taken to mean ‘important for the purpose of justifying the decision.’
Thus, Lücke argues that Goodhart’s theory yields a realistic and adequate explanation of the binding force of precedent.
Moreover, when judicial pronouncements of principle must be read ‘subject to the underlying facts’ and precedents can be distinguished ‘on the facts,’ one is forced to wonder what magic exists in ‘facts’ that appear to be able to overcome the law.
Basically, Goodhart’s theory is rooted in this statement: The principle of the case can be found by determining:
- the facts treated by the judge as material, and
- his decision was based on them.
Thus, the theory of Goodhart focuses on one thesis, which states that the judge creates law or makes a decision based on that principle by the judge’s choice of the material facts.
Distinction Between Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta
Ratio decidendi and obiter dicta are two Latin terms used to distinguish between the binding and non-binding parts of a court’s decision.
Ratio decidendi (Latin for “the reason for the decision”) is the principle of law necessary to the case’s decision. Furthermore, it is the part of the judgement that is binding on other courts in future cases with similar facts.
On the other hand, obiter dicta (Latin for “things said by the way”) are statements made by the court that are not necessary to the decision of the case. Therefore, they are not binding on other courts and may be disregarded in future cases.
The Challenges of Determining the Ratio Decidendi in Complex Cases
Determining the reason for the decision in complex cases can be challenging for a number of reasons.
- The facts of the case may be complex. Complex cases often involve a number of different facts, some of which may be more relevant to the case’s decision than others.
- The legal issues involved may be complex. In intricate legal cases, identifying the reason for the decision of a case can be quite challenging as it may not be immediately evident which legal issues hold the utmost significance in determining the final verdict.
This can require a thorough analysis of all the relevant facts and legal principles involved in the case.
- The judgement may be long and complex. Judgments in complex cases can be long and complex, making it difficult to identify the reason for the decision.
This is because the judgement may discuss several issues, some of which may be more relevant to the case’s decision than others.
- The judges may not agree on the basis of reasoning of the decision. In such a case, judges may hold differing opinions regarding such reason for the decision, which can complicate the determination of the exact decision-making rationale.
Nonetheless, this underscores the significance of examining various perspectives for a just and equitable resolution.
Despite these challenges, it is essential to identify why the decision is based on complex cases. This is because the reason for the decision of a previously decided case is binding on other courts, and they must follow it when deciding similar cases.
Tips for Identifying the Ratio Decidendi in Complex Cases
- Read the judgement carefully. This may seem obvious, but it is important to read the judgement carefully to identify the key facts and legal issues involved in the case.
- Identify the key passages in the judgement. The key passages in the judgement discuss the key facts and legal issues involved in the case.
- Consider the reasoning of the judges. The judge’s reasoning is essential for understanding why they reached their decision.
- Identify the principles of law that the judges apply. The principles of law that the judges apply are the most likely to be the reason for the decision of a case.
Seeking Legal Advice
If you are still having trouble identifying the ratio decidendi in a complex case, consider consulting with a lawyer or legal scholar who is familiar with the case.
JB Solicitors offers services such as legal research, case analysis, and interpretation of principles and advice. Hiring a competent lawyer with expertise and access to legal resources can help you in your case.
Let’s discuss your case today. Contact us here if you have a legal question or questions about the ratio decidendi principle.