Episode 86

Gordon Brysland

It’s more than easy to fall into the ‘1 + 1 = 3’ trap when interpreting statutes – that is, ‘provision + dictionary = answer’.  We all recall that line from the old American case, repeated by our courts – ‘don’t make a fortress out of a dictionary’1.  The point is that we have a contextual system of interpretation and dictionaries say nothing about context (they record common usage).  We are to have regard to context in the ‘widest sense’.  Rather often, as is to be expected, context will confirm that the ordinary meaning is what parliament meant by the words it used.  Sometimes, however, some other meaning will be suggested by context and confirmed by purpose2.  In both situations, however, ‘1 + 1 + 1 = 3’ – that is, ‘provision + dictionary + context = answer’.  The crucial element, context, steers us from unconscious literalism and provides essential quality assurance.

Gordon Brysland – Tax Counsel Network

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In this episode:

Thanks – Oliver Hood, Eric Armstrong, Patrick Boyd & Charlie Yu.


1 Thiess [2014] HCA 12 (at [23]), Sea Shepherd [2013] FCAFC 68 (at [36]).

2 R v A2 [2019] HCA 35 (at [32-44]), for example.