Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More on Dictionaries in the Supreme Court

Following on from Paul McMahon's post on the use of dictionaries, I thought I'd add a few more citations of interest. Paul observes that Irish judges are more "sensible" in their use of dictionaries than U.S. Supreme Court judges. While he may have a point, part of the explanation might be the difference in citation culture between the two systems. As a general matter, American lawyers/academics/judges tend to cite more thoroughly than others, and while other judges may be consulting dictionaries just as extensively as their American counterparts, perhaps they are not citing them as much? Perhaps Irish legislation is worded more clearly? It would be interesting to get an Irish judge's views on the issue.
Anyway, here are few more interesting references:
  •  ""Felon-setter"and "Helped jail republicans in England" were not words in respect of which one has to have recourse to a dictionary to know what they meant to an Irishman; they were equivalent to calling him a traitor."  (Berry v. Irish Times (S.C. 1973))
  • "To "download" a computer meant to "transfer (data) from one storage device or system to another" in accordance with the definition contained in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English." (Regina v. City of London Magistrates' Court and Another, Ex parte Green (Q.B. 1997).
  • "I do not think that any useful guidance can be derived from dictionary definitions as to what is meant by the expression "primary education". Its meaning, in the vast majority of cases, is clear. It denotes the stage of a child's education lasting from ages six to twelve and does not extend to the kind of training and human development that takes place from birth to age four. (Sinnott v. Minister for Education (S.C. 2001).