Week 10: Statutory Presumptions
This week’s material was probably one of the easier ones. But was also one of the most informative. Although it was essentially a listing of the presumptions (and assumptions) that courts commonly make, this is the sort of information that you don’t know when you hear about court decisions. Without the knowledge of these presumptions, it can be challenging to work out why a judge arrived at the decision that they did.
For example, take a criminal case, where the accused is found guilty. In accordance with the legislation, the judge will then hand down the sentence. However, there is an ambiguity in the provision. So they can’t use the literal rule of interpretation. They might use the mischief rule to identify what the purpose of the provision was, in order to resolve the matter. In this instance, there is a presumption that penal provisions are strictly construed. The result is that in the presence of ambiguity in penal provisions, the interpretation that favours the accused will be selected. But without the knowledge of this presumption it is hard to predict the outcome of the case.
There are several other presumptions that were covered, including that of ‘legislation does not bind the Crown’ and ‘Taxpayers provisions construed to the taxpayer’s benefit’. Both of these presumptions are of diminished importance in recent times, but for different reasons. The former is due to changes in how the government acts, which make this an unreasonable presumption in many cases. The latter presumption has lost importance due to the modern statutory interpretation approach requiring the interpretation that favours the purpose of the legislation, which is not always to the taxpayer’s benefit.
All in all, this topic has been very interesting, reading through some of the examples cases to identify how these presumptions have been applied, and the reasoning for their existence. The important takeaway message from this topic has been that these presumptions do exist, and that they are simply presumptions, and as such can be rebutted or overridden by Courts and explicitly overridden by Parliament if they wish to do so.