Sergey Belov1, Mikhail Revazov2
  • 1 Saint Petersburg University, 7–9 Universitetskaya Embankment, Saint Petersburg 199034, Russia
  • 2 Saint Petersburg University, 7–9 Universitetskaya Embankment, Saint Petersburg 199034, Russia

Theory and Practice of Legal Documents Interpretation by Courts with Using Dictionaries

2023. No. 1. P. 4–26 [issue contents]
The courts make interpretation of different documents, first of all, legal documents like statutes and contracts, and this interpretation becomes a matter of disputes in courtrooms. While the courts must describe the grounds of their decisions, a choice of certain interpretation needs to be argued. The court must demonstrate objectivity of the choice and its’ non-arbitrariness. While the courts often appeal to the ordinary meaning of words, dictionaries play the role of proves of this meaning. This is not the only way to prove the ordinary meaning of a word, thought the simplest, easiest, and therefore widely used. The references to the dictionaries in judgments of Russian and U.S. courts were compared. At first, references to dictionaries are traditional and numerous practices in the U.S., while there are only a few references in judgements of Russian courts. At second, the Russian courts use the general dictionaries, but make interpretations of special legal terms. The U.S. courts more often use dictionaries for interpretation of common words and if they interpret legal terms, they use legal dictionaries. In the both jurisdictions the idea that all legal texts made with ordinary language motivates the use of general dictionaries, thought the idea raise skepticism both from practical and theoretical points of view. Words in legal texts become special legal terms due to strict, precise and certain usage. This concerns even those words, which beyond legal documents are vague in their meaning. References to dictionaries do not meet the aim of objective interpretation: the choice of dictionary certain meaning of a word remains to be discretionary. The purposes of objective interpretation of words in legal documents could be achieved by analysis of legal corpora, linguistic expertise or through special legal dictionaries. The latter appeared to be the most preferred way.
Citation: For citation: Belov S.A., Revazov M.A. (2023) Theory and practice of interpretation of legal documents by courts with using dictionaries. Law. Journal of the Higher School of Economics, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 4–26 (in Russ.). DOI:10.17323/2072-8166.2023.1.4.26.
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