Judicial Interpretation


Judicial interpretation is “[t]he art or process of determining the intended meaning of a written document, such as a constitution, statute, contract, deed, or will.” That is to say, it is precisely what it sounds like—a clarification of the meaning of a law, contract, etc. by a judge. While defining judicial interpretation is a simple matter, judicial interpretation is, itself, far from it. Some sections of code include definitions to illuminate more clearly what they are actually saying, but knowing how to put a law into practice is never as straightforward as knowing what its component words mean. Naturally, judicial interpretation is largely a subjective science molded by the personal discretion of justices, but these justices are guided in their recommendations by rules of statutory interpretation. The rules by which their judgments are to be guided are, in turn, governed in part by legislative history, common law, etc.

Example Sentence

The words that comprise a given law may seem straightforward to the amateur observer, but judicial interpretation plays a tremendous role in determining what a statute actually entails.

Case Study

In the realm of personal injury law, the outcome of a case usually hinges on the definition of “negligence” (or, more precisely, on the definition of the word, “reasonable” within the definition of “negligence”).  The layman reading the text of the law knows that reasonable care allows for some wiggle room, but not what constitutes “wiggle room” in which context.  The claimant and defendant in an auto accident, wrongful death, etc. may have very different ideas of what reasonable care might have prevented the catastrophe in question; and it may come before a judge to decide what is reasonable. When a personal injury claim turns into litigation, the question of whether or not reasonable care was taken to prevent an accident falls to judicial interpretation.

Other Important Information

Utah’s rules of statutory construction can be found in Title 68, §3. According to Utah tradition, common law carries the foremost weight in deciding cases.

Image “My Trusty Gavel” copyright by Brian Turner.

Legal Glossary provided by: Christensen & Hymas Salt Lake’s Best Personal Injury Attorney

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