Judgment that constitutes a precedent

Keywords:-Ratio decidendi-Binding Decision

Vishal N Kalsaria vs Bank Of India & Ors on 20 January, 2016

It is a well settled position of law that a word or sentence cannot be picked up from a judgment to construe that it is the ratio decidendi on the relevant aspect of the case. It is also a well-settled position of law that a judgment cannot be read as a statute and interpreted and applied to fact situations. An eleven Judge Bench of this Court in the case of H.H. Maharajadhiraja Madhav Rao Jivaji Rao Scindia Bahadur of Gwalior & Ors. v. Union of India held as under:

“It is difficult to regard a word, a clause or a sentence occurring in a judgment of this Court, divorced from its context, as containing a full exposition of the law on a question when the question did not even fall to be answered in that judgment.” The same view was reiterated by a Division Bench of this Court in the case of Commissioner of Income Tax v. Sun Engineering Works (P.) Ltd. Further, a three Judge Bench of this Court in the case of Union of India v. Dhanawanti Devi & Ors. held as under:

“9. It is not everything said by a Judge while giving judgment that constitutes a precedent. The only thing in a judge’s decision binding a party is the principle upon which the case is decided and for this reason it is important to analyse a decision and isolate from it the ratio decidendi. According to the well-settled theory of precedents, every decision contains three basic postulates – (i) findings of material facts, direct and inferential. An inferential finding of facts is the inference which the Judge draws from the direct, or perceptible facts; (ii) statements of the principles of law applicable to the legal problems disclosed by the facts; and (iii) judgment based on the combined effect of the above. A decision is only an authority for what it actually decides. What is of the essence in a decision is its ratio and not every observation found therein nor what logically follows from the various observations made in the judgment. Every judgment must be read as applicable to the particular facts proved, or assumed to be proved, since the generality of the expressions which may be found there is not intended to be exposition of the whole law, but governed and qualified by the particular facts of the case in which such expressions are to be found. It would, therefore, be not profitable to extract a sentence here and there from the judgment and to build upon it because the essence of the decision is its ratio and not every observation found therein. The enunciation of the reason or principle on which a question before a court has been decided is alone binding as a precedent. The concrete decision alone is binding between the parties to it, but it is the abstract ratio decidendi, ascertained on a consideration of the judgment in relation to the subject matter of the decision, which alone has the force of law and which, when it is clear what it was, is binding. It is only the principle laid down in the judgment that is binding law under Article 141 of the Constitution. A deliberate judicial decision arrived at after hearing an argument on a question which arises in the case or is put in issue may constitute a precedent, no matter for what reason, and the precedent by long recognition may mature into rule of stare decisis. It is the rule deductible from the application of law to the facts and circumstances of the case which constitutes its ratio decidendi.

10. Therefore, in order to understand and appreciate the binding force of a decision it is always necessary to see what were the facts in the case in which the decision was given and what was the point which had to be decided. No judgment can be read as if it is a statute. A word or a clause or a sentence in the judgment cannot be regarded as a full exposition of law. Law cannot afford to be static and therefore, Judges are to employ an intelligent technique in the use of precedents……” (emphasis laid by this Court)

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