Teleological approach

Taylor v Attorney-General [2019] HCA 30

Edelman J in this case (at [148]) said reliance on ambiguous statements in an EM ‘would invite a teleological approach to interpretation’14.  What was he getting at?  The context was the meaning of ‘private prosecution’ in the War Crimes Act 1945, where the EM had said that it was ‘desirable to exclude the possibility of private prosecutions’. 

The judge uses ‘teleological’ in a negative sense.  In the dictionary, it means something like ‘purposive’, but it also has a vague science-fictional feel to it.  Edelman J uses the term in suggesting an approach under which judges fill legal gaps in statutes with policy content15.  In our system, this is not allowed.

This case is from Episode 54 of interpretation NOW!


14 Taylor [2014] HCA 9 (at [55, 65]) cited.

15 Bennion on Statutory Interpretation (at 465), Episode 47.