Strained Interpretations

27 Pages Posted: 16 May 2018 Last revised: 11 Feb 2019

See all articles by Adam Perry

Adam Perry

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 8, 2018


Judges often give statutes strained interpretations. What makes an interpretation strained? What, if anything, justifies a strained interpretation? Is there always a point past which an interpretation would be too strained, or are there some interpretations which judges are entitled to adopt, whatever a statute says? I claim to answer these questions. Using the formula about conditional probability known as Bayes’ theorem, I offer a precise definition of a strained interpretation, and identify two reasons for strained interpretations. I claim that the case for strained interpretations is often stronger than is realised, and illustrate that claim with a novel defence of the House of Lords’ decision in Anisminic Ltd. v Foreign Compensation Commission. Finally, I suggest that even if a legislature is sovereign, there may be meanings which a legislature is unable to enact into law. Thus, there may be limits on even a sovereign legislature’s powers.

Keywords: statutory interpretation, evidence, legal reasoning, Bayes' Theorem

Suggested Citation

Perry, Adam, Strained Interpretations (May 8, 2018). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies No. 2/2019, Available at SSRN: or

Adam Perry (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

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