I have looked it up but I am confused because I couldn't discern its meaning. For example Longman Dictionary says :

to judge something only on what you see when you look at it rather than on what you know from other people or things

It’s important to judge each case on its merits.

According to this definitions, it comes to mind a scenario in which someone is accused of a wrongdoing but some people say "we should judge the case on its own merits" to mean " we should listen to him too, that is, other side and whole story then we should judge. We should not believe what other people say immediately."

On the other hand, from some contexts I read on the Internet, I understand that it means that "the same wrongdoing may not be offense in other cases"

For example :

Well, I think that you have to take each of these situations sort of on their own merits.

I do not know the context of the sentence I excerpted from FoxNews website

3 Answers 3


When we judge something "on its own merits" we only look at that one thing and consider only what we know about it from our examination. We don't judge it based on what other people think about it or compared to other similar things that have already been judged or taking into account unimportant details that may bias our opinion of it.

For example, let's say that my dog Fluffy is competing in a dog show. She is the daughter of the grand champion of the previous year's competition, Mr. Fluffenstuff. I ask that she be judged on her own merits instead of the judges considering that she is the daughter of a champion and should have better "fluffy" genes than other dogs might have. The judges would try to ignore who her sire was and just judge how fluffy she is the same way they would judge any other dog in the competition. Then if she won, it would be because of her own merits and not because the judges knew she was the daughter of a champion.

Here's another example - let's say I'm frightened of octagonal things because when I was young a US stop sign fell and hit me on the head. A friend has painted a beautiful picture, but they painted it on an octagonal canvas. Now, that shape is hard for me to look at, so I could say I don't like that painting. Or, I could judge the painting on its own merits and not by the shape of its canvas and maybe have a different opinion.

On the other hand, from some contexts I read on the Internet, I understand that it means that "the same wrongdoing may not be offense in other cases"

That's not exactly the right way to look at it. A "case" is not a "wrongdoing". A case is trying to determine if a wrongdoing has happened, and if so, what the punishment should be. Two cases can be judging the same "wrongdoing", but there will be differences. Maybe the witnesses in one case are more reliable than in the other case, or maybe there is evidence in one case that doesn't exist in the other. Each case should be considered independently and be judged based on the evidence presented in that case. They shouldn't be judged by what people think based on what they've read in the newspaper, or what their neighbor told them, or anything else.

  • I found an explanation on another website apparently made by a native speaker. Could you share what you think about that example ?forum.wordreference.com/threads/…
    – Mrt
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 18:41
  • 1
    @Mrt would you incorporate which part of that you would like explained into your question please?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 18:44
  • @ColleenV the example given on the website that I added its link on my previous comment, if you don't mind
    – Mrt
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 22:18

to judge a case on its own merits is actually a legal term.

The legal term means: "Merits, in law, are the inherent rights and wrongs of a legal case, absent of any emotional or technical bias. The evidence is applied solely to cases decided on the merits, and any procedural matters are discounted."

Wikipedia definition

The phrase means worthy of proper or due attention. It is used in everyday English speech.

The FoxNews thing is a variation on the legal idea.

Take a situation on its own merits [the inherent rights and wrongs of a situation] is the same idea.

uses and definitions of merit

  • sorry what do you mean by "The information posted about conditions,etc. is not standard in English" could you elaborate?
    – Mrt
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 18:36
  • Take this example please : someone attacks someone else in order to defense himself and the first attacker get hospitalized because the first defender attacks more than he needs. However, he does not get any legal punishment because he defended himself. Although getting hospitalized someone is wrongdoing, this case is and its background conditions are different so we should judge this case on its merits. Is this correct usage?
    – Mrt
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 22:29
  • You are confusing the origin of phrase (legal) with its extension into everyday speech. Please see the changes to my answer. And please note: self-defense, criminal or non-criminal act, are the terms you need. Not wrongdoing.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 22:38

to judge something on its own merits means;

The idea, feedback, comment, or decision came solely from a single subject. (Either a single person or a group of people who support the same ideology.)

*You might also want to know the definition of Cognitive Dissonance

"Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong, when introducing new evidence that works against their beliefs, the new evidence cannot be accepted. Because it creates a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, the way it bothers them called Cognitive Dissonance.

And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore, and even deny anything that's doesn't fit or remotely related to their faith."


  • If you are quoting a source material, please cite the source here.
    – Em.
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 5:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .