R v Rolfe [2021] HCA 38

A police officer fatally shot an indigenous man during an arrest and was later acquitted of murder.  A side issue went to the High Court on the scope of police powers8.  On the impact of section headings on interpretation, the court said (at [18]) that ‘a modern approach to statutory construction often takes account of headings, much in the same way as use is made of extrinsic materials’9.  As Prof Pearce says, ‘differing approaches’ have been taken to headings10

Headings are usually part of the Act.  Where they are not, s 15AB of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 will be relevant.  Headings aid but do not control meaning.  iTip – always treat headings with care and respect.

This principle is from Episode 84 of interpretation NOW!


8 ss 124 & 148B of the Police Administration Act 1978 (NT).

9 Bennion, Bailey & Norbury (at [16.7]), R v A2 [2019] HCA 35 (at [40]).

10 Pearce Interpretation Acts in Australia (at [3.15]), cf Episodes 23 & 55.