Episode 107

Proportionality is a large and nuanced legal concept.  While not often cited in interpretation, the core idea – the balance between the degree of departure from a baseline and the importance or clarity of the departure’s purpose – is useful in resolving interpretation questions.  Under the ‘modern approach’, legal meaning usually corresponds with grammatical meaning, ‘but not always’1.  A strained or awkward interpretation is allowed (sometimes required) if it best achieves the purpose or object2 and is ‘reasonably open’3.  Proportionality is observed where the degree of textual strain is balanced against how well the interpretation achieves the purpose or object.  As Mason & Wilson JJ observed 43 years ago, ‘questions of degree arise’4.  Recent High Court cases show the increasingly practical role that proportionality plays in resolving difficult questions of degree5.

Chloe Burnett SC – Sixth Floor Selbourne Chambers cburnett@sixthfloor.com.au

See here for the official PDF of Episode 107 of interpretation NOW!

Thanks – Chloe Burnett, Phillip Borrell, Ben Lingard & Cheryl D’Amico.


1 Project Blue Sky [1998] HCA 28 [78], A2 [2019] HCA 35 [32].

2 s 15AA of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth).

3 Cooper Brookes (1981) 147 CLR 297 (320), Oreb [2017] FCAFC 49 [25].

4 Cooper Brookes (1981) 147 CLR 297 (321).

5 eg Harvey [2024] HCA 1 [116, 110], Taylor [2014] HCA 9 [38, 66-71].