Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Golden Rule Definition:

A rule of statutory or legal document interpretation which allows a shift from the ordinary sense of as word(s) if the overall content of the document demands it.

Related Terms: Interpretatio Cessat in Claris, Liberal Construction, Plain Meaning Rule, Golden Rule Argument

Distinct from the concept of a golden ruile argument, an improper suggestion made to a jury (see Legal Definition of Golden RUle Argument).

In the British case Grey v. Pearson, 6 ER 60 (1857), quoted with approval in Bilawchuk v Blomberg, 2000 ABQB 824, the golden rule was defined as follows:

"In construing all written instruments, the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity, or some repugnance or inconsistence with the rest of the instrument, in which case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified, so as to avoid that absurdity and inconsistency, but no further."

Another case often cited in support of the golden rule is River Wear Commissioners v Adamson in which Justice Blackburn used these words:

"I believe that is it not disputed that what Lord Wensleydale used to call the golden rule is right, vis, that we are to take the whole statute together, and construe it all together, giving the words their ordinary signification, unless when so applied they produce an inconsistency, or an absurdity or inconvenience so great as to convince the Court that the intention could not have been to use them in their ordinary signification, which though less proper, is one which the Court thinks the words will bear."

As the British Columbia Court of Appeal wrote in 1991, Krusel v Firth:

"(T)he golden rule ... is most often applied so as to resolve ambiguity in statutory language in favour of that meaning which will best achieve the intention of the legislature revealed by the statute as a whole.

"The rule requires also that words having only one meaning on a logical reading of the statute - language, that is to say, which gives rise to no ambiguity - shall nevertheless not be given that natural meaning where the result would be unjust or absurd or would contradict the plain purpose or intent of the statute, as discovered from a reading of the whole and from the character which, in the absence of contrary words, the law ascribes to statutes of that sort."


Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!