Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Liberal Construction Definition:

A form of construction which allows a judge to consider other factors when deciding the meaning of a phrase or document.

Related Terms: Literal Construction, Golden Rule

A form of construction which allows a judge to consider other factors when deciding the meaning of a phrase or document.

For example, faced with an ambiguous article in a statute, a liberal construction would allow a judge to consider the purpose and object of a statute before deciding what the article actually means.

There exists a plethora of judicial statements of this concept, a sampling of which are set out below:

  • "Liberal construction does not mean that words should be forced out of their natural meaning, but simply that the words should receive a fair and reasonable interpretation so as to attain the objects for which the instrument is designed and the purpose to which it is applied."1
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  • "A liberal construction has been defined as one which expands the meaning of the statute to meet the cases which are clearly within the spirit or reason of the law or within the evil which it was designed to remedy, provided that such an interpretation is not inconsistent with the language used".2
  • "Giving liberal construction means to give the language of a statutory provision, freely and consciously, its commonly, generally accepted meaning, to the end that the most comprehensive application thereof may be accorded, without doing violence to any of its terms. Liberal interpretation of a statute does not permit doing violence to the language in the statute."3

     

In most jurisdictions, this is the default method of interpretation put upon the courts. For example, consider §10 of Alberta's Interpretation Act:

"An enactment shall be construed as being remedial, and shall be given the fair, large and liberal construction and interpretation that best ensures the attainment of its objects."

Similarly, in Petteys v Butler, Justice Harry Blackmun, then on the United States Court of Appeals, used these words in a dissenting opinion:

"... either the statute means what it literally says or that it does not; that if the Congress intended to provide additional exceptions, it would have done so in clear language; and that the recognized purpose and aim of the statute are more consistently and protectively to be served if the statute is construed literally and objectively rather than non-literally and subjectively on a case-by-case application. The latter inevitably is a weakening process."

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