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5.2.4 Practical guide to the interpretation of legislation

Date Published

When interpreting legislation and applying it to a problem, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • establish whether the legislation was in force at the relevant time. If it was not, establish whether it nevertheless applies retrospectively to the problem;
  • using the table of contents, scan through the whole of the legislation for relevant sections. Check the headings of Parts, Divisions and Sections, the side-notes, and marginal notes to sections;
  • when you find a relevant section, read it very carefully and note any words or phrases of particular significance;
  • check whether any of those particular words or phrases are defined in the legislation;
  • if necessary, check the meaning of any key words in a dictionary;
  • consider whether any sections of the relevant interpretation legislation apply;
  • check whether any of the adjacent sections in the legislation shed light on the section you are looking at, remembering that words are normally used consistently;
  • attempt to interpret the words according to their plain and ordinary meaning or, where appropriate, their technical or legal meaning. Then try to apply them to the problem;
  • if there is ambiguity or doubt as to the meaning of certain words, seek guidance from other parts of the legislation, such as the long title and schedules;
  • where appropriate, identify the purpose of the legislation, or of the particular section you are interpreting, by looking at the whole of the legislation;
  • if necessary, refer to appropriate sources outside the legislation, if that is permitted, to discover purpose or to resolve ambiguity or doubt as to meaning; and
  • interpret the section against a background of any relevant common law presumptions.

Amended Reasons

Amended Reason Date Amended

Published for testing

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