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§ 41. “Definitions.”

The definitions in the Act are remarkably few, being confined to the words “Commonwealth” and “State”—both old English words which receive by this Act a new technical application—and the phrase “Original States.” Every other word and phrase of the Constitution is left to be construed from its natural meaning and its context.

It is safer to abstain from imposing, with regard to Acts of Parliament, any further canons of construction than those applicable to all documents. (Lamplugh v. Norton, 22 Q.B.D. 452.) When a doubt arises upon the construction of the words of an Act of Parliament, it is the duty of the Court to remove the doubt by deciding it; and when the Court has given its decision, the point can no longer be considered doubtful. (Bell v. Holtby, L.R. 15 Eq. 178.) Acts should be construed according to the intent of Parliament. If the words of the statute are themselves precise and unambiguous, then no more can be necessary than to expound those words in their natural and ordinary sense. The words themselves, in such case, best declare the intention of the legislature. (Sussex Peerage, 11 Cl. and F. 86; 8 Jur. 793.) The Court knows nothing of the intention of an Act, except from the words in which it is expressed, applied to the facts existing at the time. (Logan v. Courtown, 20 L J. Ch. 347; Digest of Eng. Ca. L., xiii., p. 1888.) Anyone who contends that a section of an Act of Parliament is not to be read literally, must be able to show one of two things, either that (1) there is some other section which cuts down its meaning, or else (2) that the section itself is repugnant to the general purview of the Act. (Nuth v. Tamplin, 8 Q.B.D. 253. Id. p. 1889.) “I prefer to adhere to the golden rule of construction that the words of a statute are to be read in their ordinary sense, unless the so construing them will lead to some incongruity or manifest absurdity.” (Per Grove, J., Collins v. Welch, 5 C.P.D. at p. 29. Id. p. 1889.) “The more literal construction of a section of a statute ought not to prevail if


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it is opposed to the intentions of the legislature as apparent by the statute, and if the words are sufficiently flexible to admit of some other construction by which that intention will be better effectuated.” (Per Lord Selborne, L.C., Caledonian R. Co. v. North British R. Co., 6 App. Cas. 122; Id. p. 1889.) “No Court is entitled to depart from the intention of the legislature as appearing from the words of the Act because it is thought unreasonable. But when two constructions are open, the Court may adopt the more reasonable of the two.” (Per Lord Blackburn, Rothes v. Kirkcaldy Waterworks Commissioners, 7 App. Cas. 702; Id. p. 1889.)

“If we can fairly construe an Act so as to carry out what must obviously have been the intention of the legislature, although the words may be a little difficult to deal with, and although they may possibly admit of more than one interpretation, we ought, from those general considerations, to adopt the interpretation which will make the law uniform, and will remedy the evil which prevailed in all the cases to which the law can be fairly applied.” (Per Jessel, M.R., Freme v. Clement, 44 L.T. 399, id. p. 1890)

“In order to construe an Act of Parliament, the court is entitled to consider the state of the law at the time it was enacted.” (Per Lord Esher, M.R., Philipps v. Rees, 24 Q.B.D. 17, id. p. 1892.)

It is useless to enter into an inquiry with regard to the history of an enactment, and any supposed defect in former legislation on the subject which it was intended to cure, in cases where the words of an enactment are clear. It is only material to enter into such inquiry where the words of an enactment are ambiguous and capable of two meanings, in order to determine which of the two meanings was intended. (Per Lord Esher, M.R., Reg v. London [Bishop], 24 Q.B.D. 213.) If the words are really and fairly doubtful, then, according to well-known legal principles and principles of common sense, historical investigation may be used for the purpose of clearing away the doubt which the phraseology of the statute creates. (Reg. v. Most, 7 Q.B.D. 251.) The court cannot impute to the legislature, in passing statutes confirming titles created by means of parliamentary powers, ignorance of the transactions which had taken place in exercise of such powers. (Beadon v. King, 22 L.J. Ch. 111, Dig. of Eng. Ca. L. xiii. p. 1892.)

It is the most natural and genuine exposition of a statute to construe one part by another, for that best expresseth the meaning of the makers, and this exposition is ex visceribus actus. (Reg. v. Mallow Union, 12 Ir. C.L.R. 35.) The common law rights of the subject, in respect of the enjoyment of his property, are not to be trenched upon by a statute, unless such intention is shown by clear words or necessary implication. Statutes restrictive of the common law receive a restrictive construction. (Ash v. Abdy, 3 Swans. 664, Dig. of Eng. Ca. L. xiii. p. 1893.)

In construing Acts which infringe on the common law, the state of the law before the passing of the Act must be ascertained to determine how far it is necessary to alter that law, in order to carry out the object of the Act. (Swanton v. Goold, 9 Ir. C.L.R. 234.) A right to demand a poll is a common law incident of all popular elections, and as such cannot be taken away by mere implication which is not necessary for the reasonable construction of a statute. (Per Brett, L.J., Reg. v. Wimbledon Local Board, 8 Q.B.D. 459.) The general law of the country is not altered or controlled by partial legislation, made without any special reference to it. (Denton v. Manners, 27 L.J. Ch. 199; affirmed 27 L.J. Ch. 623, Dig. of Eng Ca. L. xiii. p. 1893.)

As a rule, existing customs or rights are not to be taken away by mere general words in an Act. But, without words especially abrogating them, they may be abrogated by plain directions to do something which is wholly inconsistent with them. And this may be the case though the Act is a private Act, and though the particular custom may have been confirmed, years before, by a verdict in a court of law. (Green v. Reg., 1 App. Cas. 513, id. p 1894.)

“When there are ambiguous expressions in an Act passed one or two centuries ago, it may be legitimate to refer to the construction put upon these expressions throughout a long course of years, by the unanimous consent of all parties interested, as evidencing what must presumably have been the intention of the legislature at that remote period. But I feel bound to construe a recent statute according to its own terms, when these are brought into controversy, and not according to the views which interested parties may have hitherto taken.” (Per Lord Watson, Clyde Navigation Trustees v. Laird, 8 App. Cas. 673, id. p. 1895.)

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