Grammar Matters: Parsing Adjectival Past Participles in Statutory Interpretation

Christopher Larcombe, Comparative Literature

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 12:00pm
LAPA Conference Room, 348 Wallace Hall
Graduate Students

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LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.

Precis: "This is a working draft of a paper which examines a discrete question in the interpretation of statutes: to what extent ought grammatical analysis alone be used by courts determinatively to construe operative words in a statute? There is no controversy that grammatical analysis of a kind can and ought be used to construe the “ordinary meaning” of statutory words, but frequently when such analysis is used any ambivalent result tends to be resolved by reference to the “context” of the word or section within the statute, or by reference to extra-statutory materials which relevantly bear on the construction putatively intended by the law-making body which enacted it. In particular, I examine so-called adjectival past-participles, or past-participles used as adjectives, in order to ascertain whether there be principles which can instruct courts as to whether particular instances carry or do no carry any temporal meaning. Determining whether adjectival past-participles are temporal or merely attributive can dramatically alter how the statute is applied: if a statutory power exists to regulate “formed corporations”, for instance, does this mean the repository of the power exceeds the grant by purporting to regulate corporations which might be formed, or the process of incorporation itself? If a prosecutor or  executive officer invested with coercive power is permitted, or perhaps compelled, by the statute to adduce evidence in court described as “criminal intelligence information held” by her, while concealing it from the defendant, does the scope of this “information” cover “information” that has been held, was held, is held, or will at any time be held? My case examples include Australian, UK, and US materials."

Christopher Larcombe
Comparative Literature

Christopher Larcombe is a second year graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature. He hopes to devote his thesis to an examination of representations of human action – intention, causation, and responsibility for action – in medieval Japanese poetic drama and Ancient Greek tragedy, and how these concepts were influenced and inflected by contemporary law and legal culture and legal thought. He studied law at The University of Sydney, Australia. He maintains his interest in law, especially in questions of a comparative nature, in the relation between law and language, and in the history and current state of equitable jurisprudence in the United States.