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Language, Meaning and the Law$
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Chris Hutton

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780748633500

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748633500.001.0001

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Issues in Legal Interpretation

Issues in Legal Interpretation

(p.62) 4 Issues in Legal Interpretation
Language, Meaning and the Law

Christopher Hutton

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter looks at how lawyers and legal theorists have understood and sought to resolve problems in legal interpretation. Legal rules concerning interpretation are shown to be an assorted mixture of conventions, maxims, principles and authorities, and this gives rise to a set of complex dilemmas. These dilemmas are revealed in relation to plain language, the use of definitions, the tension between a need for consistency and the requirement that law evolve in step with social change. Law students for example learn the ‘literal’, ‘golden’ and ‘mischief’ rules; courts consider equity as part of an understanding of legal morality but also flexibility, and consider policy questions in relation to legal decision making. Hard cases reveal the difficulty of asserting and sustaining a consistent approach to legal interpretation. Modern secular law is subject to challenge and contestation, since it can no longer draw overtly on its roots in pre-modern feudal and theological models of authority and sovereignty.

Keywords:   Interpretation, Authority, Plain language, Definition, Literal rule, Golden rule, Mischief rule, Equitable interpretation, Policy

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