2014 JSI Seminar Series: Dr Dale Smith

30 October 2014

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Statutory Interpretation, Meaning and the Content of the Law

It is widely accepted by both courts and academic commentators that the legal effect of a statutory provision (i.e. the contribution it makes to the content of the law) is - at least typically - equivalent to its linguistic content (i.e. the meaning of the words contained in the provision). Dale Smith calls this "the equivalence thesis". In this paper, Smith fleshes out the core commitments of the equivalence thesis and explain why the thesis appears attractive. However, he then argues that the equivalence thesis struggles to account for the operation of what he calls "modifier laws" - that is, laws which alter the legal effect of one or more statutory provisions, such as the presumption of mens rea in criminal law or s 32(1) of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). On some occasions, the equivalence theorist may be able to account for the operation of modifier laws (e.g. on the basis that these laws also contribute to the linguistic content of the statutory provision in question, such that the legal effect of that provision is equivalent to its linguistic content). However, on many occasions, the operation of modifier laws results in the legal effect of a statutory provision diverging from its linguistic content. This, Smith argues, provides a strong reason for thinking that the equivalence thesis is mistaken.

Dale Smith's research focuses primarily on analytic legal philosophy, especially on the jurisprudential writings of Ronald Dworkin. His recent publications include 'Law, Justice and the Unity of Value' (2012) 32 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 383, 'Must the Law Be Capable of Possessing Authority?' (2012) 18 Legal Theory 69, 'The Role of Conventions in Law' (2011) 2 Jurisprudence 451, 'Theoretical Disagreement and the Semantic Sting' (2010) 30 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 635, 'Has Raz Drawn the Semantic Sting?' (2009) 28 Law and Philosophy 291, and 'Reckless Rape in Victoria' (2008) 32 Melbourne University Law Review 1007.

Dale is currently working on issues in analytic legal philosophy, statutory interpretation and (with Dr Colin Campbell from Monash University) discrimination law.

Dale graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1998 with first class honours degrees in Law and Arts. He also holds a Masters of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Melbourne and a D.Phil in Law from the University of Oxford. His doctoral thesis was on the implications for adjudication of the debate between moral objectivists and anti-objectivists. Prior to joining Melbourne Law School as a Senior Lecturer in 2014, Dale was a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash University. He was a Visiting Academic at the Faculty of Laws, University College London in October 2012.

Lawyers/barristers: attendance at this lecture is equal to 2 MCLE/CPD units

Time: 6.00pm-8.00pm

Location: Faculty Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: Complimentary, registration essential

Contact: Professional Learning and Community Engagement (PLaCE) Team

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 360f00440b4308413b1b70381b2f1b30527c521c07772222