Statutory definitions

Moreton Bay RC v Mekpine[2016] HCA 7

The High Court again points to the limited role that statutory definitions play.  The issue was whether a definition of ‘common areas’ in one Act applied to another – answer ‘no’3.  The court said (at [61]) that statutory definitions do ‘no more than define the meaning to be assigned to [a] word … as used in the Act’4.  They are an aid to construction and ‘do not operate in any other way’. 

Two further issues with definitions are (A) the possible impact of ordinary meaning on them5, and (B) the circuity of using the term itself to determine what it means6iTip – don’t assume that definitions in one Act apply to another Act.             

This case is from Episode 11 of interpretationNOW!


3  cf Coverdale v West Coast Council [2016] HCA 15 (at [43]).

4  Gibb v FCT (1966) 118 CLR 628 (at 635), quoted.

5  Heffernan v Comcare [2014] FCAFC 2 (at [46]).

ICAC v Cunneen [2015] HCA 14 (at [33]), Episode 1.