Statutory principles

SZTAL v Minister [2017] HCA 34

Three High Court judges in SZTAL (at [14]) re-stated some of the fundamentals.  Start with the text while ‘at the same time’ having regard to purpose and context4, the latter in its widest sense5.  Ordinary meaning is important, but if purpose or context suggests another meaning which is inconsistent with purpose, ordinary meaning ‘must be rejected’. 

These uncontroversial propositions have set the theme for decades.  They flow naturally from moves to purposivism starting in 1981, and they contain the seeds of ‘constructional choice’ theory.  At their centre is rejection of the text-only literalism that sometimes dogged interpretation in the past.

This case is from Episode 32 of interpretationNOW!


4 Project Blue Sky [1998] HCA 28 (at [69-71]), Alcan [2009] HCA 41 (at [47]).

5 CIC Insurance (1997) 187 CLR 384 (at 408), cited.