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The Latin phrase “per curiam” means “by the court” and it is used to indicate that a legal opinion is issued in the name of the court, not in the name of a specific judge. The norms about when opinions and judgments are issued per curiam vary depending on the nation and the court. High courts, for example, tend to more commonly issue signed opinions and judgments, while lower courts may offer per curiam decisions on a more regular basis.
A court may offer an oral or written judgment per curiam because it feels that the matter is not controversial, with such decisions being used to quickly dispense of matters before the court. When a matter is complicated or more controversial in nature the judge usually signs the opinion, not least because the opinion may enter jurisprudence and judges appreciate seeing their names in print. Judges may also want to make their involvement in the decision clear for the record.
Per curiam decisions are not more or less valid than decisions signed by judges. They can indicate a unanimous decision on the part of the court, but this is not necessarily the case. Like other legal judgments, they can potentially be appealed if someone feels that the judgment was reached in error or that there were problems in the court which might have impeded justice, such as incomplete information or evidence tampering.
In cases where multiple judges are involved in hearing a case and entering a judgment, a per curiam decision is written by one or more judges, but not signed by anyone on the court, and it is issued in the name of the court. By contrast, a court may have a unanimous decision and opinion signed by all the judges. Courts may also split on their judgment, in which case a dissenting opinion written by a judge from the other side may be issued; multiple judges can also write opinions. In all of these cases, judges sign their names to their opinions and attach their names to their judgments.
Legal scholars sometimes debate per curiam judgments; some feel that there is no reason for judges not to attach their names to legal decisions and that decisions should not be issued in the name of the court. Others believe that there is no particular need for judges to sign uncontroversial judgments and defend the right of courts to issue per curiam decisions.