Canons of construction

Hayne & Gordon course notes

The authors, one a Royal Commissioner and the other a High Court judge, refer to ‘one of the complexities’ students face – being that canons of construction ‘can be used to justify almost any result that the user wishes to achieve’2.  This is not a new idea3 – one observation being that they involve a ‘jumble of mutually contradictory directives’4

Five points – (1) this ‘complexity’ confuses argument with interpretation.  (2) the latter does not ‘wish’ for any particular result5.  (3) s 15AA6 and courts require a purposive approach.  (4) any choice between canons is directed by that approach.  (5) s 15AA excludes canons to the extent of any inconsistency7

This case is from Episode 41 of interpretationNOW!


2 Hayne & Gordon course notes – Statutes in the 21st Century (at 6).

3 Llewelyn (1950) 3 Vanderbilt LR 395 (at 401), for example.

4 Ekins & Goldsworthy (2014) 36 Sydney Law Review 39 (at 43).

5 cf AEU v DECS [2012] HCA 3, Episode 6.

6 s 15AA of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.

7 Plaintiff S10 [2012] HCA 31 (at [97]) illustrates.