Composite expressions

Cooper v Strata Plan No 58068 [2020] NSWCA 250

The Coopers kept a little dog in their apartment contrary to a by-law saying occupiers ‘must not keep or permit any animal to be on a lot’.  They argued that this was ‘harsh, unconscionable or oppressive’8.

Basten JA said that phrase was ‘fraught with difficulty’, that dictionaries were of limited value, and (at [26]) that it was best understood as a ‘triune’ (3 words conveying a single criterion).  This approach spoke to community values, rather than the ordinary meaning of the words viewed in isolation.  The by-law was not made for a proper purpose and was invalid.  iTip – this case is about composite expressions and the dangers of dictionaries – it’s not about the dog.

This principle is from Episode 67 of interpretation NOW!


8 s 139(1) of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (NSW).