Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Ultra Petita Definition:

Latin: beyond that which is sought.

Related Terms: Obiter Dictum

Usually used in relation to a judgment of the court which exceeds even that which was asked for, such as a damage award which is in excess of what a plaintiff requested.

An ultra petita decision is not good law and is typically and successfully appealed on that ground.

The ultra petita rule highlights the importance of good pleadings as a Court cannot generally give a litigant more than what they ask for. If a personal injury is alleged but no damages pleaded, awarding damages might be ultra petita. The reality is that in most cases, a judge will nudge a litigant along to make up for any fatal deficiency at trial such as:

"Mr. Doe, I'm not seeing any allegation or claim for damages in the statement of claim. Would you be wanting an adjournment to amend your pleadings?"

This rule is significant in international law and was stated in the Asylum case that it was the International Court of Justice's duty:

"... not only to reply to the questions as stated in the final submissions of the parties, but also to abstain from deciding issues not included in those submissions."

In 2002, Prager Dietmar wrote in Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals:

"The non ultra petita rule is an emanation of the general principle that an international tribunal's powers are limited to what is conferred upon it by the parties. The Court is accordingly confined to acting on and cannot go beyond the submissions of the parties themselves."


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