What are Dicta?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2020
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Dicta are statements made by people in a position of authority which are given weight because of the authority of the speaker. Although a dictum is not legally binding, it may sometimes be treated as such. In law, this term usually comes up in reference to dicta made by judges in court, in legal opinions, and in other settings. It can sometimes be difficult to determine the nature of a statement made by a judge to determine whether or not it is a dictum.

The word is derived from the Latin obiter dictum, “a statement made in passing.” When a judge makes a dictum, it is in a sense an editorial comment. It does not have direct bearing on the case and may not be backed up with legal precedent, it is simply a statement about some aspect of a case. Because the statement is not legally binding, people have the option of disregarding it, although dicta have been utilized in courts and legal opinions on the basis that because they were entered into the record, they had relevance.


Judges are regarded as authority figures in and out of court because of their position. As a result, dicta are often taken seriously and judges take care when making passing statements to make sure that these statements are clear in nature so that they will be unlikely to be abused or misused. Other officers of the court can also make dicta, as for example when a lawyer makes an editorial comment about a case or question brought up in a court of law.

People may refer to several different types of dicta. A judicial dictum is an opinion offered by a judge on a point argued in court which does not necessarily have bearing on the final decision. When someone such as a judge offers a statement without being obliged to do so, this is considered a gratis dictum. Another type of dictum is a dictum proprium, offered by a judge but not necessarily agreed to by all of the court.

The Latin roots of this word can also be seen in words like “dictate,” referring to spoken speech which is intended to be written down by someone who is said to be “taking dictation.” For those concerned with proper pluralization, a singular statement is a dictum, while multiple statements are dicta. The same pluralization pattern can be seen in “datum” and “data.”


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