Episode 108

Gordon Brysland

Punctuation often provokes passion.  The Guardian online reports that a council in England has decreed that street names will drop the possessive apostrophe – eg St Marys Walk.  Residents and linguists are outraged.  One said it was just more evidence of ‘everything going downhill’.  The council defended itself on the basis of global website standards and avoidance of uncertainty.  In our interpretation system, punctuation also raises passion but it is rarely decisive1.  It has a role, but its influence depends on how consciously and consistently it is applied2The Guardian said a university lecturer had made the point that ‘context allows people to understand’ where an apostrophe is omitted.  And so it is with punctuation in statutes.  It is context invariably which is determinative.  Interestingly, in Australia, possessive apostrophes in geographical names are banned3 – eg Surfers Paradise.

Gordon Brysland – Tax Counsel Network gordon.brysland@ato.gov.au

See here for the official PDF of Episode 108 of interpretation NOW!

Thanks – Oliver Hood, Dennis Pearce, Patrick Boyd & Janhavi Bhandari.


1 It also part of the Act – s 13(1) AIA 1901 (Cth), Pearce 10th ed [4.103-4.106].

2 Mainteck [2014] NSWCA 184 [105], GLP [2024] VSC 182 [108], Episode 60.

3 NSW Geographical Names Board (2018) Guideline 5 & other jurisdictions.