Judicial approaches to meaning in the interpretation of statutes
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Law
Statutes are a written communication between Parliament and the legislative audience. Statutory interpretation is the process whereby the legislative audience seeks to understand and thereby govern its actions by the dictates of Parliament. Judicial interpretation occurs only when there has been some breakdown in this process - either Parliament failed to express its ideas clearly or those ideas are incapable of precise expression. A broad aim of this thesis is to examine the functioning of language and the communication process with a view to understanding more clearly the nature of meaning and its ascertainment. An analysis will be made of those features of language giving rise to uncertainty and so to the problem case of interpretation. An analysis will also be made of the nature of linguistic certainty; it is hoped that a better understanding of the ingredients of successful communication will eventually lead to the reduction of statutory doubt. Next the theory of judicial interpretation will be considered and its correspondence to accepted linguistic theory assessed. Particular emphasis will be placed on a discussion of the adequacy of the traditional canons. Finally judicial practice will be considered by means of a survey conducted from two years of the New Zealand Law Reports. The results from this survey will then be compared with earlier findings from the thesis. Conclusions of a general nature will be drawn; in particular it will be submitted that a shift in the dominant paradigm applicable to the construction of statutes is presently under way in New Zealand. The traditional canons are being replaced by a more unified and consistent paradigm whose features include liberalisation of the literal rule to encompass consideration of context, including the statutory purpose, and explicit provision for assessment of consequences. This new paradigm is more adequate than the traditional canons and Section 5(j) both as a source of reasons for meaning and reasons for decision.