Black letter approaches

In Episode 2, we emphasised that interpretation must always start with the text.  However, black letter approaches [that is – narrow, acontextual or literalistic ones] are inconsistent with the purposive approach required by parliament8 and the High Court since 1981.  Changes made at that time sounded the death knell for the black letter literalism of the Barwick era9.  A steady flow of High Court cases ever since10 now means that black letter interpretation is out in this country. 

Instead, we are to read statutes broadly on a ‘text-context-text’ basis – see Episode 2 for more detail.  This means it is not open to Chris Jordan to adopt black letter approaches in his administration of tax laws.  iTip – context is the key to interpretation in the modern era. 

This case is from Episode 3 of interpretationNOW!


8  s 15AA of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (amended in 2011).

Sir Garfield Barwick was CJ of the High Court 1964-1981.  His tax work was called ‘a study in the failure of the new legalism’ – Lehmann (1983).   

10 Project Blue Sky [1998] HCA 28 (at [69]), CIC Insurance (1997) 187 CLR 384 (at 408), Unit Trend Services [2013] HCA 16 (at [47]).