Context and ambiguity

FCT v Jayasinghe[2016] FCAFC 79 

In this case, Allsop CJ emphasises (at [3-12]) that statutory words need not be ambiguous on their face before their context may be examined6.  Words cannot be construed in isolation, and context (in its widest sense) must be considered straight away7.

At the same time, Allsop CJ warns against giving ‘false precedence to context’ by searching for purpose or meaning in secondary sources then transporting this into the statute8.  Context only informs the reading of the actual statutory language to reveal constructional choices that aren’t obvious from the text alone9iTip – use the ‘text > context > text’ process in Episode 2.

This case is from Episode 14 of interpretationNOW!


cf Acts Interpretation Act 1901 s 15AB(1).

CIC Insurance (1997) 187 CLR 384 (at 408); Cunneen [2015] HCA 14 (at [57]).

See Episode 6 ‘Preconceived policy’; Rio Tinto [2015] FCA 94 (at [30]).

See Episode 2 ‘Constructional choices’.