Judicial interpretation

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Judicial interpretation (also known as construction) is the process of interpreting and applying the correct meaning of legal documents, as engaged in a judge in a court of law.


The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904)[edit]

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 39-44. Text online.
  • When a general principle for the construction of an instrument is once laid down, the Court will not be restrained from making their own application of that principle, because there are cases in which it may have been applied in a different manner.
    • Lord Eldon, C.J., Browning v. Wright (1799), 2 B. & P. 24.
  • One of the most sacred principles of law is, that a written instrument must be construed upon the face of it, and that no parol evidence can be used for the purpose of inserting any words not therein contained.
    • Sir R. Malins, V.-C, Inre Sayer's Trusts (1868), L. R. 6 Eq. Ca. 321.
  • Words having a distinct meaning must bear their primary legal import.
    • Sir W Page Wood, V.-C, Alger v. Parrott (1866), L. R. 3Eq. Ca. 330.
  • We can judge of the intent of the parties only by their words.
    • Powell, J., Idle v. Cooke (1704), 2 Raym. 1149.
  • Nothing can be more mischievous than the attempt to wrest words from their proper and legal meaning only because those words are superfluous.
    • Lord Selborne, L.C., Giles v. Melsom (1873), L. R. 6 Eng. & Ir. Ap. 33.
  • One would wonder, when a word was in use two hundred years ago, that there should remain now any doubt what it is.
  • An enactment for the favour and liberty of the subject ought to have a liberal construction.
  • No Court ought to depart from the plain meaning of plain English words, unless coerced to do so by some very serious injustice, a hardship which would arise from a literal interpretation, for instance, where the legal interpretation would, in the opinion of the Court, operate so harshly that the Court would be driven to suppose that there must have been some clerical mistake in the language of the Act, or deed, or whatever may be under consideration.
    • James, L.J., Ex parte Rashleigh; In re Dalzell (1875), L. R. 2 C. D. 13.
  • Wherever a law is productive of tyranny, I shall ever give my consent to narrow the construction.
    • Willes, J., Jones v. Smart (1785), 1 T. R. 49.
  • I confess a law clearly penned shall have its force in cases it does reach, though it does not reach all cases; but where a law is penned, that it may be expounded one way or other, and there is a question of the meaning of it, it is more natural to believe it was meant in that way that is clear, and that reaches all cases that are in parity of reason, than in that way that has absurd consequences, both by including those which were not intended, and leaving out those which stand in the same degree.
    • North, C.J., Carter v. Crawley (1681), Sir Thos. Ray. Rep. 505.
  • If in the vast majority of possible cases—in all of ordinary occurrence—the law is in no degree inconsistent or unreasonable, construed according to its plain words, it seems to me to be an untenable proposition, and unsupported by authority, to say that the construction may be varied in every case because there is one possible, but highly improbable one, in which the law would operate with great severity, and against our own notions of justice.
    • Parke, B., Miller v. Salomons (1852), 7 Ex. Rep. 549. This is in relation to the maxim, "ad ea qua frequentius accidunt jura adaptantur: The laws are adapted to those cases which most frequently occur". 2 Inst. 137.
  • A casus omissus can in no case be supplied by a Court of law, for that would be to make laws.
    • Buller, J., Jones v. Smart (1785), 1 T. R. 52.
  • It is very mischievous for a Court to propound views of the law different from those taken by another Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction.
    • Sir G. J. Turner, L.J., Ex parte Fachiri; In re Fachiri (1867), L. R 2 Ch. Ap. 372.
  • Such construction is always to be made of a deed that all the words (if possible) agreeable to reason and conformable to law, may take effect according to the intent of the parties without rejecting of any, or by any construction to make them void.
    • Lord Coke, Shelley's Case (1581), 1 Co. 233, Part I. 95 b.
  • The rules laid down in respect of the construction of deeds are founded in law, reason, and common sense: That they shall operate according to the intention of the parties, if by law they may: And if they cannot operate in one form, they shall operate in that, which by law will effectuate the intention.
  • It is the duty of Courts of Justice to give that construction which most fairly carries out the manifest purpose.
    • Sir John Stuart, V.-C, In re Warner and Powell's Arbitration (1866), L. R. 3 Eq. Ca. 266.
  • Does not everybody see from hence, that you must first examine the law before you can apply the rule of construction? For the law must not be bent by the construction, but that must be adapted to the spirit and sense of the law.
    • Camden, L.C.J., Case of Seizure of Papers (1765), 19 How. St. Tr. 1060.
  • But surely it is a rule, both in law and equity, so to construe the whole deed or will, as that every clause should have its effect.
    • Parker, L.C., Butler v. Duncomb (1719), 1 P. Wms. 457.
  • How far Judges may be, or ought to be, able to defeat a rule of law of which they disapprove, I cannot say. I think it is the duty of a Judge not to allow himself to be so influenced, but to construe the instrument in a proper way, to arrive at its meaning independently of the results, and then apply the law.
    • Jessel, M.R., Cunliffe v. Brancker (1876), L. R. 3 C. D. 399.
  • Definition, founded upon etymology, is not satisfactory, etymology being often in itself unsettled.
    • Wood, V.-C, Forbes v. Forbes (1854), 23 Law J. Rep. Part 2 (N. S.) Ch. 726.
  • The words of a deed are to be construed like those of any other writing, according to the ordinary use and application of them.
    • Lord Abinger, C.B., Bain v. Cooper and another (1842), 9 M. & W. 708; 11 L. J. Ex. 327.
  • Expressions used in particular cases are to be understood with relation to the subject-matter then before the Court.
    • Buller, J., Moss v. Gallimore (1780), Dougl. 279.
  • Very unequal would that interpretation be, which would construe the same words for the plaintiff according to the real substantial truth of the thing, in opposition to legal forms; and against the defendant according to legal notions and forms, contrary to real truth, more especially when the law, from the nature of it, ought to be taken liberally in favour of defendants.
  • If once we go upon niceties of construction, we shall not know where to stop. For one nicety is made a foundation for another; and that other for a third; and so on, without end.
    • Wilmot, J., Rex v. Inhabitants of Caverswall (1758), Burrow (Settlement Cases), 465.
  • The Court will always incline to lean against niceties in matters of variance. But where it is in the description of a statute or record, it is fatal.
  • When a person undertakes to explain his own meaning, we are not to extend the same by construction.
    • Heath, J., Lord Nelson v. Tucker (1802), 3 Bos. & Pull. 276.
  • I should regret to place a narrowing construction upon rules intended to remove expense and delay.
  • We should not be too strict in construing instruments or contracts generally drawn up on the spur of the moment.
  • Where the law is known, and clear, though it be inequitable and inconvenient, the Judges must determine as the law is, without regarding the unequitableness or inconveniency, but where the law is doubtful and not clear, the Judges ought to interpret the law to be as is most consonant to equity, and least inconvenient.
    • Vaughan, L.C.J., Dixon v. Harrison (1669), Vaughan's Rep. 37, 38, Fortesc. 392, 393.
  • I am bound to administer the law here according to the best construction that I can put upon the intent and meaning of the authorities applicable to the cases before me.
  • In questions of difficulty and nicety, Lord Coke says that arguments ab inconvenienti ought to have great weight.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., Sadgrove v. Kirby (1795), 6 T. B. 486.
  • I have been long and deeply impressed with the rule, now, I believe, universally adopted, at least in the Courts of law in Westminster Hall, that in construing wills and indeed statutes, and all written instruments, the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity, or some repugnance or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument, in which case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified, so as to avoid that absurdity and inconsistency, but no farther. This is laid down by Mr. Justice Burton, in a very excellent opinion, which is to be found in the case of Warburton v. Loveland.
    • Lord Wensleydale, Grey and others v. Pearson (1857), 6 H. L. C. p. 106; 26 L. J. Ch. 481.
  • The golden ride of construction is, that words are to be construed according to their natural meaning,2 unless such a construction would either render them senseless, or would be opposed to the general scope and intent of the instrument, or unless there be some cogent reason of convenience in favour of a different interpretation.
    • Bramwell, B., Fowell and another v. Franter and others (1864), 3 H. & C. 461; 34 L. J. Ex. 7.
  • It has been a general rule for drawing deeds and other legal documents from the earliest times, which one is taught when one first becomes a pupil to a conveyancer, never to change the form of words unless you are going to change the meaning, and it would be as well if those who are engaged in the preparation of Acts of Parliament would bear in mind that that is the real principle of construction.
    • Blackburn, J., Hadley v. Perks (1866), L. R. 1Q. B. 457.
  • As a Judge sitting here to interpret the rule, I must take it exactly as it is.
    • Chitty, J., Besley v. Besley (1888), L. R. 37 C. D. 650.

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