This course offers a multidisciplinary introduction to key debates relating to legal interpretation and legal theory. It begins with the similarities and differences between the study of language (linguistics), the study of literary texts, and the discipline of law. It then focuses on fundamental issues in legal interpretation, looking at the distinction between legal and ordinary language. The course raises issues of word meaning and definition in law, and other semiotic dilemmas that arise in legal interpretation. stressing the sociopolitical dimension to interpretative questions confronted by judges. The presentation of theories of language and law is complemented by exercises drawn from decided cases or which reflect real-life legal dilemmas. Law is seen in the context of issues such as authority and power; doubt and certainty; meaning and indeterminacy. No technical knowledge of law, linguistics or literary theory is assumed.
- An introduction to meaning and interpretation through examples: concepts, approaches and issues
- Interpretation as a pervasive question in relation to religious and literary texts
- Linguistic approaches to lexical meaning and questions of ambiguity, polysemy, vagueness, and indeterminacy
- Legal approaches to meaning and interpretation, focussing on “ordinary meaning”
- Jurisprudential debates about legal interpretation and the question of indeterminacy
- Decided cases concerning classification of objects, events, signs, activities and people
- The role of the linguistic corpus in settling interpretative questions in law
- Expertise and interpretation: linguists, judges, literary critics and ordinary speakers
Students will gain an understanding of the fundamental interpretative dilemmas of law, and the relationship of these both to the socio-political context of legal rules, and to debates within the humanities about interpretative authority. They will gain diagnostic and analytic skills in relation to language in legal problems, and an understanding of the limits of legal certainty.
The course has three timetabled hours per week. The two hour session will be primarily lecture but may also include in-class exercises. Students will be given extensive opportunities to analyze problem cases. The third hour will be used as required for review of readings, case materials, and for informal discussion. Final arrangements for the use of the third hour will depend on the number of students enrolled.
The primary requirements are a mid-term essay/project of 2000 words (50% of final grade) and a final essay of 2000 words (50% of final grade). As an alternative, students may work on a semester project, either individually or in a group of two, with a proposal/partial first draft (50%) and a final draft (50%) (though in the case of a semester project, the overall course grade will be normally determined by the final draft). For individual projects the length should be 4000 words; for joint projects, at least 5000.
The primary text is Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation (C.M. Hutton, Palgrave, 2014). This will be available on Moodle. Students will be given weekly handouts or shown powerpoints outlining the basic concepts, and will be directed to relevant readings in law and linguistics journals. There are many relevant journals, including the International Journal of Speech language and the Law; Yale Journal of Law & Humanities; Law & Literature.
- No technical knowledge of law, literary theory and linguistics is assumed – but these are technical subjects with their own specialized terminology
- Lecture + workshop format
- The emphasis is on understanding and applying interpretative theory to real legal questions and social problems