De Minimis Non Curat Lex


“De Minimis Non Curat Lex” – The remarkable Latin maxim which explains that law never considers trivial violations of law as an offence. Judiciary, thereby interpreting the authority of the concerned maxim, refuses to entertain matters that require no judicial interference or into which a mere judicial interference could waste the Court’s valuable time. However, from the 15th century, the history of this age-old maxim originated. In a lawsuit, the judiciary applies the maxim to avoid being concerned with minor transgressions of the law. It is used at the whims of the judiciary; primarily, it is used as a defence to dismiss a demand when the issue before the Court lies regarding the claim of a nominal sum. However, the appellate courts often apply the maxim in disputes that demand its apt application.

The concerned common law maxim assists the judges in prioritizing the cases they must deal with. Often, the minor violation of the law must be overlooked to focus on the most significant part of the case that requires thorough attention.[1] Any rational mind shall not approach the judiciary for trifles and trivial matters, as opting for the same could result in wasting resources and time. Dealing with the trivials shall eventually bring infamy to the judiciary. In general, the maxim prevents the courts from taking into account certain violations of law, consequences of which are negligible, such as technical breaches regarding the agreements and contracts. In India, the application of this Latin maxim has been legally recognized and embedded under Section 95 of the Indian Penal Code.

Application of the Maxim – English Law

The initiation of applying this maxim to deciding English law cases was pretty much into practice starting from the 15th century. Mention of this principle could be found in several landmark judgments, such as:

1. Coward v. Baddeley

The facts of this case state that a fire broke out in a city, and the firefighters reached the spot wherein a bystander, to draw the attention of a fireman towards a building on fire, caught by his arms. Consequently, the fireman approached the Court and filed a suit of battery against the bystander. The Court, after a detailed consideration of the merit of the case, held that the bystander was not liable to commit battery, thereby dismissing the suit by applying the principle of de minimis non curat lex.[2]

2. People v Durham

The appellant, in this case, filed a suit in the Court against a particular traffic citation and claimed a remedy of 5 dollars. The Court held that these kinds of litigations disrepute the judiciary. Any rational being shall consider these issues a waste of resources and time. Therefore, they dismissed the appeal, considering it a mere waste of time and money.[3]

3. Helford v. Bailey

The plaintiff approached the judiciary against the defendant for trespassing into his property wherein the defendant had cast her net over a waterbody into which the plaintiff had an exclusive right. Although the defendant pulled out the net without catching any fish or harming the plaintiff’s property, the plaintiff pleaded that such action of the defendant does not dilute the fact of his trespassing into the property, which is a tort. Therefore, such a scenario is an exception to applying the de minimis non curat lex principle. The Court, in this case, held the defendant guilty of trespassing and declared the plaintiff’s exclusive right over the water body.[4]

Therefore, the concerned Latin maxim serves a threefold purpose to the judiciary by:

a) reserving the right to opt for criminal law in the event of any serious crimes;

b) protecting the accused from a criminal conviction and the imposition of unnecessarily harsh penalties for trivial breach of the law; and

c) reserving the courts’ right from involvement in minor cases requiring no judicial interference.[5]

Application of the Maxim- Indian Concept

1. India Tv Independent News Service Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Yashraj Films Pvt. Ltd.

In India, the maxim was considered to be used as a defence in cases of copyright infringement. However, the issue lies in the maxim that could be utilised as a defence separately from fair use in compliance with Section 52 of the Copyright Act 1957. In this landmark judgment, the maxim’s applicability in India got a whole new scenario; prior to this, the utility of the principle was quite vague in India. In this case, the dispute arose when five words were copied from a song of five stanzas. After thoroughly considering the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court held it to be trivial that attracted the de minimis principle as a defence herein.[6]

2. Somawanti v. State of Punjab

In this case, the Supreme Court opined that the principle of de minimis could be applied in the appellate courts wherein it comes to the knowledge of the court that the issue regarding the appeal is unnecessary and trivial.[7]

3. State of Bihar & Ors. v. Harihar Prasad Debuka and Ors.

It was held that the checking of documents or submitting and filling of forms and returns, and the like, can be considered an inconvenience; therefore, the court can apply the maxim unless it is proved with credible evidence that the same is unreasonably opposed to the public interest.

4. State (Delhi Administration) v. Puran Mal

This case was held as an exception to the application of the maxim. Considering the adulteration of the food articles, the Court held that any food item that becomes unfit for human consumption could not be considered a trivial matter and shall be contributed an appropriate weightage. Therefore, the case shall not be dismissed by applying the defence of de minimis rule.[8]

5. Chunilal Jethalal v. Ahmedabad Borough Municipality

It was held that the words “kept for use within the borough” denote that the vehicle shall be utilized for normal use within the borough. In the event it is kept outside the borough, an occasional user within the borough could be subject to rejection in terms of its normal use if and when the principle of de minimis is applied.[9]

6. Bathula Krishna Brahmam v. Gudipudi Shaik Meera Hassain

The Andhra Pradesh High Court held that even on the basis of the de minimis principle, the delay could not be excused even if the mistake was of the clerk and not the payer or even if the amount paid in terms of the poundage could have been appropriated towards the deficiency.[10]

7. Ramesh v. State Through The Inspector Of Police

The Madras High Court held that Section 95 of IPC has explained in detail the applicability of the maxim de minimis. This Section is intended to prevent the penalization of negligible wrongs or of an offence of trivial character. Whether the act, which amounts to an offence, is trivial would undoubtedly depend upon the nature of the injury, the position of the parties and other facts and circumstances of a case. Therefore, under this provision, those cases that fall within the penal law’s letter are yet not within its spirit, and or all over the world, considered by the public as innocent. In other words, the harm that results out of an offence, if it is minimal, that no person of ordinary intelligence would complain of such harm.[11]

Section 95 of IPC enumerates the explanation of the maxim, which expressly declares that the judiciary shall not entertain or take into account the trivial violations of law. The provision of this section bars the punishment against minor transgression of the law. In order to quote an offence as trivial, several parameters are thoroughly considered. The parameters include the nature of the offence, the nature of injury caused, the designation of the interested parties, knowledge and intention behind the offence so committed, and the relevant facts and circumstances of the case.[12] On adjudging such parameters, if and when an offence qualifies the category of trivial, such is considered innocent in the eye of the law despite being an offence. In other words, the injury resulting from such offence, if it is so minimal that no person of ordinary prudence and intelligence would complain about such an injury, then such shall necessarily qualify the aspect of being trivial in nature and shall be mandatorily dismissed in accordance with the provisions of Section 95.


The maxim being a common law principle, affirms that the judiciary does not need to deal with disputes involving trivial transgression of the law, thereby contributing to saving the time and resources of both the Court and the parties involved. Moreover, even in the event of the appearance of any trivial matter before the Court, the maxim is utilized to dismiss the same. However, the parameters to judge whether a particular case fits into the picture of being trivial or not largely varies from case to case and considerably depends upon the value of the suit.[13]A minor claim of money is often adjudged as trivial. The matters of appeal are barred from further review based on the principle of de minimis if and when, after thoroughly considering the facts and circumstances of a case, it denotes a clear waste of both time and resources.[14]

The maxim demands using common sense, justice and technicalities to prevent exorbitant litigation costs for frivolous and trivial matters before the Court of law. It is considered the most underestimated aspect of the law, wherein the defence of the principle has been more frequently applied practically than in theory. However, a critical analysis of the de minimis maxim could be well noticed in both means.[15]

Utilizing the de minimis principle in defence is considered to be an equitable remedy, thereby preventing the multiplicity of proceedings and further review of the appeals.[16] Taking defence of the maxim has been recognised as an adequate remedy wherein the trial judge has the absolute liberty to apply the principle as per individual cases’ merits. The applicability of the maxim entirely depends upon the discretionary power of the individual judges and their subjective opinions. Therefore, it is not apt to expect uniformity in the administration and interpretation of the principle among the Courts of different jurisdictions.[17] The Court of Law applies the Latin maxim after considering the nature of the offence, the damage caused, and the value of the suit, as also the larger public interest involved.

Henceforth, its implementation is an absolute exercise of judicial power and interpretation.[18] It is of immense importance that the maxim must be applied after adequately considering the merits of the case; contrary to this, the principle could pose a real threat of corruption in the hands of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. Since absolute power to apply the principle rests in the hands of the judiciary, it could become a tool of an excuse to dismiss any cases in accordance to their whims which do not favour them as opposed to the real essence of dismissing a case in alignment to the principle-a negative aspect of absoluteness lies in here. Therefore, in addition to the above parameters, public interest must be given considerable importance while judging the triviality of a case.

[1] Super Cassettes Industries Limited & Ors. v. Chintamani Rao & Ors., 2282/2006.

[2] 1859.

[3] 915 NE 2d 40.

[4] (1849) 18 L.J.Q.B. 109.

[5] Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC. 19-55882 (9th Cir. 2021).

[6] 2013 (53) PTC 586 (Del).

[7] AIR 1963 SC 151.

[8] A.I.R. 1985 S.C. 741.

[9] A.I.R. 1989 S.C. 1119.

[10] A.I.R. 1968 A.P. 309.

[11] Crl.O.P.(MD)Nos.9083 of 2017.

[12] Gayle v. Home Box Office (2018 WL 2059657).

[13]Veech, Max L., and Charles R. Moon. “De Minimis Non Curat Lex.” Michigan Law Review, vol. 45, no. 5, 1947, pp. 537–70.

[14] Fullam v. Stearns, 30 Vt. 443 at 455 (1857).

[15] J Hervada, What is Law? The modern response to juridical realism (Montreal, 2009), p 170.

[16]Alec Samuels, J.P., Barrister, B.A.(Cantab), “De minimis non curat lex”, Statute Law Review, Volume 6, Issue 1, Autumn 1985, Pages 167–169.

[17] O Wendell Holmes, ‘The path of the law’, (1897) 10:8 Harvard Law Review 457–478.

[18] State v. Park.

Amrapali Mukherjee

I have completed my Masters in Commercial and Corporate Law from the Queen Mary University of London with upper merit and a distinction in the dissertation, currently, I am working as a Legal Advisor for a partnership firm at Kolkata.