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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Postgraduate Course: Legal Interpretation (LAWS11502)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course explores the main approaches to interpreting language use, and how they apply in a wide range of legal contexts. These contexts include making of legislation and written constitutions, international treaties, and private legal instruments (e.g. contracts, leases, and wills), as well as defamation, perjury, hate speech etc.
Course description Laws are typically made by using language: by someone (a law-maker) saying something. This course explores various approaches to how to understand what someone says when they use language and how those approaches apply in a wide range of legal contexts. The first part of the course draws on linguistics and philosophy of language to develop a theoretical framework for determining the content that we express by using language. The second part then looks at how to apply that framework in various legal contexts. These include how to understand various types of legal instrument ¿ legislation and written constitutions, international treaties, and private legal instruments (such as contracts, leases, and wills) ¿ and other legally-relevant uses of language: statements that may be defamatory, or misrepresentations (or false descriptions), or that may involve hate speech (or incitements to violence), etc. Students will therefore improve both their understanding of how language works and their ability to make persuasive argument about how to interpret language use in various legal contexts.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Explain what linguistic interpretation is, and the role that it plays in understanding legal instruments and legally-relevant uses of language
  2. Articulate the key features of legal instruments (and other legally-relevant uses of language) which affect how they should be interpreted
  3. Explain how the differences in legal instruments (and other legally-relevant uses of language) justify different interpretative approaches
  4. Analyse and critically evaluate legal decisions (and the academic literature), in several legal fields, from an interpretative perspective
  5. Engage in constructive debate about complex theoretical issues
Reading List
There is no set textbook for this course. Reading lists will be set for each seminar, and the readings are mainly journal articles and case reports (all of which should be available online). We may also draw upon some or all of the following books:

- Neil MacCormick and Robert Summers (eds), Interpreting statutes: A comparative study (Dartmouth 1991)
- Kent Greenawalt, Statutory and Common Law Interpretation (Oxford University Press 2012)
- Sotirios Barber and James Fleming, Constitutional Interpretation: The Basic Questions (Oxford University Press 2007)
- Catherine Mitchell, Interpretation of Contracts (2nd edn, Routledge 2018)
- Kim Lewison, Interpretation of Contracts (7th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2020)
- Alexander Learmonth QC and others (eds), Theobald on Wills (19th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2021)
- Anne Lise Kjær and Joanna Lam (eds), Language and Legal Interpretation in International Law (Oxford University Press 2022)
- Andrea Bianchi and others (eds), Interpretation in International Law (Oxford University Press 2015)
- Ingo Venzke, How Interpretation Makes International Law: On Semantic Change and Normative Twists (Oxford University Press 2012)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Research and enquiry; personal and intellectual autonomy; personal effectiveness; and communication.
KeywordsLaw; interpretation; language; legislation; constitutions; contracts; leases; property; treaties
Course organiserDr Martin Kelly
Tel: (0131 6)51 7112
Course secretaryMiss Bethan Walters
Tel: (0131 6)50 2386
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