Defining Contextualism: The Modern Approach to Statutory Interpretation Report uri icon


  • The idea that the interpretation of legislation (‘statutory interpretation’) is nothing more than a miscellany of canons is widely held. But it is misleading. Encircling the canons and sitting underneath the intention of Parliament is the approach of contextualism. It is not just a buzz word. In the paper I set out some of contextualism’s general principles. They suggest (among other things): that regard to the context is essential; that the context is layered and can be approached sequentially; that it involves close attention to the text; that it involves critical examination of arguments; that it is a multifactorial and not an answer-based process; and that it is text-based. Therefore, if we look beyond the everyday canons, the beginnings of a structure to the law and practice is evident. Statutory interpretation may be broad and deep and variegated, as Lord Wilberforce once famously said. But, as I endeavour to show, it does not lack a general approach — contextualism.

publication date

  • 2017