Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Preamble Definition:

A introductory written statement of facts or assumptions upon which a statute or contract is based.

Related Terms: Exordium

A preamble to a statute describes the reason for the law.

In many jurisdictions, preambles are no longer used in statutes especially because they can inadvertently influence the subsequent interpretation of the statute.

Judges' enthusiasm to refer to a preamble to interpret another part of the statute was, for example, stated by Justice Hackland in Allen:

"A preamble is a helpful interpretive device ... (C)ertain judgments have attributed considerable importance to the interpretive assistance rendered by the preamble in constitutional litigation.

"Under normal circumstances, preambles can be used to identify the purpose of a statute, and also as an aid to construing ambiguous statutory language."

This principle is often stated in an interpretation act such as §13 of the Interpretation Act of Canada:

"The preamble of an enactment shall be read as a part of the enactment intended to assist in explaining its purport and object."

Similarly, §9 of the Interpretation Act of British Columbia; or this, from §8 of the Ontario Interpretation Act:

"The preamble of an Act shall be deemed a part thereof and is intended to assist in explaining the purport and object of the Act."

Conversely, when a contract is submitted to the court for interpretation, a preamble in the contract is not given any weight. In United Packing House and in reference to a collective bargaining agreement:

"The preamble speaks of the contribution that a relationship of good will and mutual respect can make to the welfare of the enterprise. It is, however, a mere recital and is not a substantive term of the agreement....  It may afford some guide to interpretation of substantive clauses, but of itself, it has no independent vitality as a source of rights or obligations."

In Sherbrooke Community Centre, Court of Queens' Bench judge Gerein wrote, at ¶16:

"The preamble to a contract is nothing more than an introduction to that about which the parties have actually agreed. It puts the agreement into context. It describes the goals of the agreement. It speaks to what went before and the spirit in which agreement was achieved. On the other hand, it does not contain any promises. It does not contain any restrictions or commitments. It could be removed entirely without in any way altering that which was agreed to and set out in specific terms."


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