Interpretation (LAWS5143)


Legal interpretation is the process by which the legal meaning of a text is ascertained, by reference to the text considered in context and with regard to its purpose. This course deals with the principles and methods of legal interpretation. While mainly relating to statutory interpretation, the unit will also cover aspects of the law of interpretation of private law instruments, the Constitution, and treaties.

The principles and methods of legal interpretation are directed to a purpose - to answer a question about contested legal meanings. The course will focus on the primary elements of interpretive practice: reading and understanding the text in its proper context, and in the light of its purpose and the objective intention of the drafter.

The course will cover:
* Approaches to legal interpretation, with emphasis on the function of interpretation in private and public law.
* Aspects of the interpretation of private instruments - wills, contracts, testamentary dispositions, collective agreements.
* Drafting and clear expression.
* Principles of statutory interpretation, including the conventions of grammatical interpretation of statutes; the use of technical words; the need to read the instrument as a whole; the role and function of interpretation acts, including legislation requiring consideration of Human Rights principles; approaches to ambiguity and inconsistency of language; specific common law principles and presumptions of interpretation; the use of extrinsic aids to interpretation, and the identification of statutory purpose.
* Aspects of interpretation of national and international instruments - Constitutions and treaties.

Part of the course content will be taught by eminent guest lecturers from the Faculty and the profession.

Our courses that offer this unit of study

Further unit of study information


2x2-hr seminars/week for 10 weeks


3,000wd research essay (40%), 1000wd drafting exercise (20%) and EITHER take home exam OR 3000wd optional additional research essay OR 3000wd long problem

Faculty/department permission required?


Unit of study rules


(LAWS1002 or LAWS2008 or LAWS1015 or LAWS5002) and (LAWS2002 or LAWS1021 or LAWS5007)



Study this unit outside a degree

Non-award/non-degree study

If you wish to undertake one or more units of study (subjects) for your own interest but not towards a degree, you may enrol in single units as a non-award student.

Cross-institutional study

If you are from another Australian tertiary institution you may be permitted to underake cross-institutional study in one or more units of study at the University of Sydney.