Absurdity doctrine is a doctrine used by courts to ignore the plain meaning of a law in cases where the plain meaning would in the court's opinion lead to absurd results. Are there any similar doctrines that attempt to correct legislative flaws by either interpreting a law broadly or narrowly to include or exclude situations where such law can or cannot apply?

2 Answers 2


The Supreme Court of Canada has long been clear that "plain meaning alone is not determinative and a statutory interpretation analysis is incomplete without considering the context, purpose and relevant legal norms" (R. v. Alex, 2017 SCC 37 at para. 31).

Many factors would pull a court to interpret a statute more narrowly or broadly than an acontextual, isolated reading of the words would suggest. Generally, this includes the full text, context, and purpose of the statute. Courts will look to:

  • the words of the provision
  • the surrounding words and related provisions
  • the words of the entire statute
  • the entire statute book
  • the legislative purpose as revealed through legislative history and the mischief the provision is meant to deal with
  • the presumption of constitutionality
  • etc.

Basically every doctrine of statutory interpretation will pull towards either a narrow or broad reading of a provision. I would hesitate though to call these "corrections" of "legislative flaws" but rather an attempt to give effect to the legislative intent. Even the doctrine of absurdity that you mention is based in an assumption that the legislature does not intend absurd results. Instead of correcting "legislative flaws" this doctrine/canon is a way to avoid judicial error.

However, after a full interpretation of a statute reveals that it is unconstitutional because it is over or under-inclusive, then a court may use the remedies of reading down or reading in (these are constitutional remedies not part of the ordinary act of interpretation). In such a circumstance, where it is a "safe assumption" that the Legislature would have enacted the "corrected" version, the court may declare the correction. See Schachter v. Canada, [1992] 2 SCR 679.

  • can a court read down or read in inside a law even if it's not unconstitutional ?
    – user49663
    Apr 29, 2023 at 20:59
  • better question , does the reasoning for the narrowing or broadening of a staute have to come from the purpose of the lawmakers or constitution itself ? @Jen
    – user49663
    Apr 30, 2023 at 8:00
  • 1
    In France, the general principles of interpretation are given in chapter I of Le recours aux travaux préparatoires et la volonté du législateur, Philippe Gérard. (Chapter II is about the specifics of determining legislative intent via parliament debates and so on.) It is a bit dated but still valid. An English summary would be extremely similar to what this (Canada) answer gives, hence I just drop the reference instead of giving a (France) answer.
    – KFK
    May 2, 2023 at 11:29

Yes, it’s called statutory interpretation

Courts recognise that words rarely if ever have a clear and unambiguous “plain meaning”. For example, the words “go” and “put” which are not uncommon in statutes each have several hundred dictionary meanings to choose from. While the correct meaning may be obvious for hundreds or even thousands of fact patterns, sooner or later a case will come along where even simple words and phrases are ambiguous.

Former High Court justice Michael Kirby wrote an illustrative article on the matter.

During the past decade or so, the High Court of Australia has unanimously endorsed other principles as necessary to the accurate reading of legislation. Amongst the most important of these principles have been:

  • that where the applicable law is expressed in legislation the correct starting point for analysis is the text of the legislation and not judicial statements of the common law or even judicial elaborations of the statute;

  • that the overall objective of statutory construction is to give effect to the purpose of Parliament as expressed in the text of the statutory provisions; and

  • that in deriving meaning from the text, so as to fulfil the purpose of Parliament, it is a mistake to consider statutory words in isolation. The proper approach demands the derivation of the meaning of words from the legislative context in which those words appear. Specifically, it requires the interpreter to examine at the very least the sentence, often the paragraph, and preferably the immediately surrounding provisions (if not a wider review of the entire statutory context) to identify the meaning of the words in the context in which they are used.

These and other explanations of the contemporary understanding of statutory interpretation have increasingly taken courts in Australia away from the previous ‘literal’, or so-called ‘objective’ or ‘plain meaning’, approach to interpretation. The notion that a word of the English language has a single, objective and scientific meaning that has only to be discovered has gradually given way to a more candid recognition of the choices that face those who interpret the written law and the way in which values and policy considerations can influence the making of those choices. That realisation presents the third element in contemporary statutory interpretation in Australia. Today, that task requires a combined exercise involving analysis of the text, context and purpose (or policy) of the statute in question.

He then goes on to illustrate the nuts and bolts by discussing Carr v Western Australia which split the High Court on the meaning of the word “interview”.

  • could mistake of law be used as a defence in such cases where the law itself was ambiguous or had multiple interpretations ? exempting an accused from the liability of the present case while also clarifying the law so that the law is applied to the acts the accused commited without punishing the current accused
    – user49663
    Apr 30, 2023 at 0:13
  • something like a test case doctrine
    – user49663
    Apr 30, 2023 at 0:25

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