Interpretation of judgement

A judgement should not be read as a statute.

Judgement in the context:

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 that they are not intended to be expositions of the whole law but governed or qualified by the particular facts of the case, in which such expressions are to be found. (per Lord Halsbury in Quinn v. Leathem, 1901 AC 495.)

Judgement as precedent:

In London Graving dock co. Ltd. vs. Horton (1951 AC 737 at p. 761), Lord Mac Dermot observed:

The matter cannot, of course, be settled merely by treating the ipsissima vertra of Willes, J. as though they were part of an Act of Parliament and applying the rules of interpretation appropriate thereto. This is not to detract from the great weight to be given to the language actually used by that most distinguished judge.

In Home Office vs. Dorset Yacht Co. (1970 (2) All ER 294) Lord Reid said:

Lord Atkin`s speech is not to be treated as if it was a statute definition it will require qualification in new circumstances.

Megarry, J. in (1971) 1 WLR 1062 observed:

One must not, of course, construe even a reserved judgment of Russell L. J. as if it were an Act of Parliament.

In Herrington v. British Railways Board (1972 (2) WLR 537) Lord Morris said:

There is always peril in treating the words of a speech or judgment as though they arewords in a legislative enactment, and it is to be remembered that judicial utterances aremade in the setting of the facts of a particular case. Circumstantial flexibility, one additional or different fact may make a world of difference between conclusions in two cases. Disposal of cases by blindly placing reliance on a decision is not proper.

The following words of Lord Denning in the matter of applying precedents have become locus classicus:

Each case depends on its own facts and a close similarity between one case and another is not enough because even a single significant detail may alter the entire aspect, in deciding such cases, one should avoid the temptation to decide cases (as said by Cardozo, J. ) by matching the colour of one case against the colour of another. To decide therefore, on which side of the line a case falls, the broad resemblance to another case is not at all decisive.

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Precedent should be followed only so far as it marks the path of justice, but you must cut the dead wood and trim off the side branches else you will find yourself lost in thickets and branches. My plea is to keep the path of justice clear of obstructions which could impede it.

Judgement be read in the context of facts:

Court should not place reliance on decisions without discussing as to how the factual situation fits in with the fact situation of the decision on which reliance is placed. Observations of Courts are neither to be read as Euclid`s theorems nor as provisions of the statute and that too taken out of the context. These observations must be read in the context in which they appear to have been stated. Judgments of Courts are not to be construed as statutes. To interpret words, phrases and provisions of a statute, it may become necessary for judges to embark into lengthy discussions but the discussion is meant to explain and not to define. Judges interpret statutes, they do not interpret judgments. They interpret words of statutes; their words are not to be interpreted as statutes.
Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. v. N.R.Vairamani, AIR 2004 SC 4778.

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