Australia’s leading authority on statutory interpretation, Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce AO, FAAL, has published the ninth edition of his book on the subject. One of the most cited texts on Australian law, Statutory Interpretation in Australia has come a long way since its first edition was published in 1974.
“In the late 1960s, we were beginning to cut ties to this notion that you had to have all English books as the only authority on Australian law. People were writing Australian books about Australian law, so it was pioneering in its way,” said Professor Pearce.
Forty-five years on, the book remains as important as ever to Australian legal practitioners, scholars and students. The latest edition was authored solely by Professor Pearce following the retirement of long-term collaborator and colleague, Adjunct Professor Robert S (Harry) Geddes.
“This is the first edition since number two that I’ve done on my own, so it was quite a deal more work to manage that,” explained Professor Pearce.
A former parliamentary drafter in the Attorney General’s Department, Professor Pearce joined The Australian National University (ANU) as a lecturer in 1968 with the then-Faculty of Law. He taught a course in legislation that included how to draft and interpret law, becoming an advocate for statute law at a time “when it wasn’t a particularly popular view”.
Australia has since entered “the age of statutes”, as referenced in a 2015 series of essays in honour of Professor Pearce, with the government deciding law more so than the courts.
“The real development has been that the courts have become much more active in moving away from what was called the literal meaning of legislation, or taking the words as they stood, to endeavouring to establish the purpose of legislation and not being tightly bound by words. It’s important to put legislation in its proper context: when it was passed, why it was passed, what people who were making it said about it,” said Professor Pearce.
Each edition takes about a year to compile, with research a continual process.
“I read cases and make notes about what courts have said all the time. By the time I come to write a new edition, I’ve got at least a dozen pages of cases and notes that I review and incorporate into the book,” he noted.
Like the material, there is no shortage of praise for the text in Australian legal circles. Regularly cited in judgements of courts and tribunals nationwide, its extensive case references and high level of accessibility have garnered widespread praise.
“It’s incredibly flattering for one to have produced the book that everybody uses. It’s a big responsibility. (The Honourable Justice) Stephen Gageler (BEc ’80, LLB (Hons) ’82, Hon LLD ’15) launched another book of mine and said to me, ‘People don’t read these books; they just use them because they know if it’s not there, it’s not around. If the subject matter isn’t dealt with, judges have to make it up.’”
The latest edition brings the total of books authored by Professor Pearce to 20, but he still has at least one more in his sights: the 10th edition of Statutory Interpretation in Australia.
“I’ve started making notes for my next edition, so it should be out in five years. I look forward to number 10, which will also be 50 years since the first edition, so it’s a double-whammy. It’ll need a gold cover," he said.
Statutory Interpretation in Australia (9th ed.) by Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce AO, FAAL will be launched by Arthur Moses SC, president of Law Council of Australia, at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers (6 National Circuit, Barton, ACT) on Thursday 28 November at 5pm.