Week 6: Intrinsic Materials (Statute Components)

It makes sense that to determine the context and purpose of a statute that you would consider the content of the statue itself. However, as with all aspects of statutory interpretation, there are rules which instruct as to which parts of the statue can be referred to in a legal sense. Thankfully, in the case of Commonwealth legislation at least, it has become much easier post December 2011. The new s13 of the Acts Interpretation Act1901 (Cth) basically states that everything in the Act from the first to the last page is part of the act, and that everything from the long title to the enacting words to the headings can be considered for the purposes of statutory interpretation.

There are several sections to a stature. These range from the long title, to the dictionary, to the schedules. They all have different purposes and roles, and may not all be present in every statute. Following is a list of some of the common headings and sections present in a statute, and a brief explanation of its purpose.

Long Title Explains the rationale, topic and audience of the statute. Decreasing in usage.
Short Title Used for ease of reference (on contrast to the long title). Can sometimes be more informative than the long title
Preamble Introductory statements – more common in international treaties and constitutions. Usually sets out the background and motivations behind an act. Also less common in modern legislation.
Objects clause Is the replacement for the long title and preamble. Is more flexible, and commonly lists the objects of the act, or of specific sections of the act.
Definitions A section (or multiple sections in longer acts) which override the common dictionary definitions of words used within the act. These definitions are specific to the act they are defined in. If definition is not exhaustive, it may be disregarded if the context evidences that the defined meaning was not intended to apply to the situation in question.
Headings These are present to make the statute easier to navigate and there are many levels. Part, Divisions and Sections are the most common.
Schedules Detailed information intended to support provisions. Usually in the form of a table, list or template. Also used when there is a list of items which may change frequently over time.
Notes Remnants from drafting, can include footnotes, headnotes and margin notes. Whilst most state and territories disregard these in statutory interpretation, it is considered in Commonwealth legislation post December 2011.
Punctuation Cannot override the purpose of the legislation, but is considered a part of Commonwealth and some state legislation.
Examples Can be used when interpreting a statue, but as with punctuation, cannot override substantive provisions. These are beneficial when trying to understand the intent of the provision
Penalties Common in criminal statues, these specify the maximum (not mandatory – unless otherwise stated) penalties for whatever misconduct the statute is in relation to. Whether they are fixed or maximum penalties is determined from the context and purpose of the act.

Although this is a discrete list of some of the different elements present within a statute, it should be remembered that they are all considered when determining the context and purpose of legislation. The different headings will give you an overview as to the different areas the statute might focus on. The long title will give you some idea of the purpose of the act, as will the preamble or objects clause, if they are present. You can look at the definitions to see what words the writers felt it was important to ensure there was a clear understanding of the meanings of the words used. The examples will also aid in determining intent.

In reality, this is all just words and semantics if you don’t start applying some of this new knowledge. This is why it was important to read through the examples provided in the textbook which demonstrated how the different parts of a statute were considered in real life court cases. In one case, a heading changed the perceived interpretation of a section of a statute. In another case, the definition of a term in a statue was examined in detail, and it was determined to be an exhaustive definition and the previous verdict upheld. And this is just the start. In the next chapter, we’ll start looking at how words have ordinary meaning… and sometimes they don’t!


Posted on 31st December, 2014, in LAW and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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