Statutory Interpretation and Private Law Obligations

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Statute is pervasive as a source of law governing most aspects of societal conduct. As Justice Leeming has written extra-judicially:
"Most of the time, as Windeyer J said, 'it is misleading to speak glibly of the common law in order to compare and contrast it with a statute'. It is misleading because it distracts attention from what Gumrnow J called the 'supreme importance of statute law' in most areas of conduct ... . As Finn J has said, 'we live in an age of statutes and ... it is statute which, more often than not, provides the rights necessary to secure the basic amenities of life in modern society.' "
Even in the context of private law, statute is of great significance in establishing individuals' rights and obligations. This is not a recent phenomenon.2 It follows that statutory interpretation - the rules and techniques of statutory interpretation that are used to determine the meaning of statutes - is unquestionably important in establishing private obligations. However, this chapter's thesis is that those rules and techniques are, in fact, of far more limited value than we might assume. To be sure, the foundational principle of statutory interpretation, that we give effect to the purpose of a statute,3 is still often central to the process of interpreting statutory provisions. Further, the courts must, of course, adhere to the processes of statutory interpretation; however, those processes do not necessarily provide answers to the questions of interpretation that arise, and more specific rules and presumptions of statutory interpretation may be of limited assistance in deciding between difficult constructional choices.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStatutory Interpretation in Private Law
EditorsPrue Vines, M Scott Donald
Place of PublicationSydney
PublisherFederation Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781760022051
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


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