The meaning and interpretation of statutes in Anglo-American legal systems

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How enacted laws should, as a matter of law, be interpreted is determined by legal norms ultimately based on the customary practices of legal officials. It cannot be determined solely by philosophical truths about ordinary linguistic meaning, although these are often incorporated within practice-based legal norms. These norms vary between legal systems, but there is much common ground. The way in which they themselves are interpreted is controversial among legal philosophers, the central question being whether or not moral judgment is required. Properly interpreted, long-standing Anglo-American legal norms establish that: (a) in enacting statutes, legislatures exercise legislative "supremacy" within the constitutional bounds of their lawmaking authority, which entails that judges must defer to the apparent will of the legislature provided that it complies with the Constitution. (b) the enactment of a statute not only creates a new law, but attempts to communicate it to the community. (c) when interpreting a statute, judges should first and foremost seek to ascertain the meaning it communicates - its "communicative content" - which depends mainly on what the legislature apparently intended it to communicate. (d) judges must supplement the meaning of a statute, in light of its purpose, if its communicative content is insufficiently determinate to settle a legal dispute. (e) in unusual and strictly limited circumstances, judges may correct or rectify that content by changing or adding to it. But in so doing, the judges must serve as the legislature's "faithful agents," as required by norm (a): for example, by obeying a later statute that requires the "re-interpretation" of earlier ones; correcting drafting errors; "reading down" provisions to ensure their constitutional validity; updating statutory language to achieve the legislature's apparent purposes in unexpectedly altered circumstances; and "reading in" so-called "implications" to ensure that statutes achieve those purposes or comply with the legislature's presumed standing commitments to respect important legal principles.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Interpretivism and the Limits of Law
EditorsTomasz Gizbert-Studnicki, Francesca Poggi, Izabela Skoczeń
Place of PublicationCheltenham UK
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781802209327
ISBN (Print)9781802209310
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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