Week 3 – Interpretation legislation
This week’s focus was on the first of three chapters about how to interpret legislation. In this case, it was more specifically focused on how to find the legislation that is used to actually understand legislation, known as interpretation legislation. Due to the repetitive nature of the legal system, a common set of terms, rules and conventions were collected together and implemented in a single act. The result was the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 for Commonwealth legislation, and similar legislation for each of the states. In the case of Queensland, there of two pieces of legislation that can be sought – the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 and the Statutory Instruments Act 1992, with the later act focused on how to interpret statutory instruments, their presentation, and managing subordinate legislation.
Due to that fact that different words can have different meanings to different people, to ensure this did not come an issue, the various Acts Interpretation Acts all contain dictionaries that define how words commonly used in statutory legislation should be interpreted. For example… how would you measure distance? Time? Age? In the case of distance or time, you may think these are ridiculous… but just take the case of “Johnny lives 10km away from Jill” – is that 10km via twisting roads? Is that 10km because of a valley? According to s 35 of the Commonwealth Act, you would know without question that this was measured in a straight line, on a horizontal plane, unless otherwise stated – otherwise referred to “as the crow flies”. And then there is may vs shall… where may allows for discretion, whereas shall is mandatory. So these acts making understanding all these terms, phrases and concepts quite straightforward.
Finally, these interpretation acts also layout conventions for how legislation operates – such as the commencement date, amendments, repeal, revival, and invalidity. And even though these conventions or rules are laid out in the interpretation acts, they are still sometimes themselves the subject of interpretation by the courts. For example, normally with invalidity, if an amendment to a piece of legislation is ruled invalid, is the original act or provision revived? In Roach v Electoral Commissioner (2007) 233 CLR 162, the court ruled that the original provision should be revived, as the amendment had implicit repeal. If if the amendment had explicit repealed the provision in question, then the court would have probably had to rule differently, as invalidation in this case would have resulted in no provision at all.
This weeks work has been quite interesting, as it is starting to show how legislation is interpreted, and what resources are needed to be able to interpret provisions in legislation. Next week should of even more interest because it is starting to focus on the purpose and context of legislative instruments.