Who Speaks for Parliament?: Hansard, the Courts and Legislative Intent

Article 4 / 11 , Vol 40 No. 1 (Spring)

Who Speaks for Parliament?: Hansard, the Courts and Legislative Intent

Two significant Supreme Court rulings from the 1990s have opened the door to using Hansard Debates to divine a parliament’s intent in court cases which challenge understandings of laws. Although the Supreme Court rulings stressed that use of Hansard as a source in legal proceedings should be strictly limited, subsequent lower courts have not always observed these limits. In this article, the author outlines these developments and explains how the more liberal use of Hansard in courts can be problematic. He concludes by cautioning parliamentarians to be mindful of how the words they use during debate may be used by the courts in the future, and urges the courts to consider how some parliamentarians might begin using their speeches in parliament to win in court what they could not in a legislature.