Statutory definitions

Privacy Commissioner v Telstra [2017] FCAFC 4

Should you work out the meaning of a statutory definition in isolation before reading it into the text of the provision being looked at?  The answer given by the courts is a firm ‘no’.  Statutory definitions are only aids to construction, not substantive law2.  Divorcing a definition from its substantive context risks giving the definition a meaning at odds with the language and purpose of the provision3.

In this case (at [58-60]), Dowsett J declined to interpret the definition in isolation.  Instead, he first inserted the words of the definition into the provision in question, then construed the expanded text as a whole4iTip – use this standard method.

This case is from Episode 23 of interpretationNOW!


See Episodes 1 and 11.

Allianz Australia [2005] HCA 26 (at [12]).

Kelly v R [2004] HCA 12 (at [103]), ASIC v AAT [2011] FCAFC 114 (at [124]).