Methods and Manners of Interpretation of Criminal Norms

Mizan Law Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, September 2017

37 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2018 Last revised: 2 May 2018

See all articles by Simeneh K Assefa

Simeneh K Assefa

Addis Ababa University - School of Law

Date Written: April 4, 2018


The criminal justice system is constituted of criminal norms, institutions and methods, among others. Interpretation of the criminal law is a process that transforms the text of the law into reality. The process is influenced by various factors, such as, the courts’ conception of the criminal law, the concept and practice of interpretation and how the interpreting institutions understand their role. The understanding of the three elements evolved over the years. The exegetic school, taking statutes as the sole source of the criminal law, argue for using ‘strict’ methods of interpretation. However, the hermeneutic school holds that interpretation is about the understanding of the law as well as finding the law to the facts of a case, thus, they argue for doctrinal interpretation. The various doctrines of the criminal law constituting meta-norms scaffold the ordinary interpretative methods of the criminal norms. This article discusses the methods in law, which constitute an essential part of the criminal justice system. After a brief introduction of those elements of the ‘system’, it delves into the structures, the criminal norms as objects of interpretation and their relation to the meta-norms, guiding the interpretation process. It examines the notion of interpretation relative to legislative drafting and augmenting knowledge of the criminal law. Finally, as there are various factors that push the court into the realm of formalism, it also argues for a manner of interpretation, away from judicial formalism.

Suggested Citation

Assefa, Simeneh K., Methods and Manners of Interpretation of Criminal Norms (April 4, 2018). Mizan Law Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, September 2017. Available at SSRN:

Simeneh K. Assefa (Contact Author)

Addis Ababa University - School of Law ( email )

Addis Ababa

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