This is a single section from Chapter 13. Read the full chapter here.

Have the key principles of legislative interpretation been considered?

The primary rules of interpretation should be considered when designing legislation.

The meaning of legislation must be ascertained from its text and in light of its purpose and context (see section 10 of the Legislation Act 2019). So:

  • generally, words in legislation will be given their natural or ordinary meanings;

however, legislation must be read as a whole and other factors, such as the surrounding words, the subject matter of the relevant part of the Act, and the overall scheme of the Act may sometimes call for a different interpretation;

  • other features of the legislation, such as any preamble, the table of contents, headings, diagrams, graphics, examples and explanatory material, as well as the organisation and format of the legislation, may also be considered as part of the interpretation task; and
  • the purpose of the legislation is a key aid to interpretation. If possible, every provision in the legislation should be interpreted consistently with its purpose. The large pool of sources that the courts will draw on in interpreting an Act highlights the need to ensure that the legislation has internal coherence, and a clear purpose or policy objective that is adequately reflected in the provisions of the legislation and any explanatory material. See the supplementary material on Designing purpose provisions and statements of principle;
  • the social, economic, environmental and legislative context may help the courts or other users to better understand the purpose and intent of the legislation.

Some Acts, such as Treaty Settlement Acts (see Chapter 5) and the Parliamentary Privilege Act 2014, have specific provisions that direct the reader how to interpret them. A specific provision may, for example, help clarify the relationship between the legislation and the common law.

Legislation applies to circumstances as they arise (see section 11 of the Legislation Act 2019): If possible legislation should be “future-proofed” by ensuring that it is flexible enough to properly address foreseeable developments in technology or society generally.

Legislation does not have retrospective effect (see section 12 of the Legislation Act 2019 and Chapter 12). Interpretation consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 is to be preferred wherever possible (see Chapter 6).

An Act does not bind the Crown unless that Act expressly provides that the Crown is so bound (see section 22 of the Legislation Act 2019 and Chapter 11).

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