When a judge arrives at a decision, he or she can provide a commentary or an accompanying explanation. This document that contains the judge’s elaborations are referred to as legal opinions.
In the case of several judges deciding a single case, as is the situation when a case reaches the Supreme Court, one judge may write the majority opinion of the entire collective of judges who tried the case. If a unanimous decision was not agreed to, the dissenting judge also has the right to provide the reasons as to why he or she chose to disagree with the majority. This type of legal opinion is referred to as a dissenting opinion.
A legal opinion does not only exist to provide the basis for the judgment handed out with regards to the case, but may also serve as part of case law and become a precedent for future related court cases. The latter occurs when court cases alter the interpretation of the law, which is often the reason why a Supreme Court chooses to try a case. Publication of legal opinions only occurs when the case is of special interest to the public or the ruling that involves the legal opinion is extraordinary.
There are two kinds of legal opinions, judicial and extra-judicial. A judicial legal opinion originates from a presiding judge or a judge that contributed to the ruling of the case. An extra-judicial legal opinion is one that is not necessarily explains a ruling but explains legal proceedings in the case.