Law, Interpretation of
Law, Interpretation of
establishment of the true meaning and content of a law so that it may be correctly understood and applied. Explanation of the meaning and content of legal rules, directed to bodies and persons applying laws, such as courts and officials, is especially important. Interpretation of a law is official when it proceeds from competent bodies and is legally binding, for example, an interpretation issued by the body that promulgated the rule in question. Interpretation is unofficial and does not have a binding character when it is made by political figures or legal scholars, as in doctrinal interpretation.
In the USSR the right to make a generally binding, official interpretation of a law belongs to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (for laws of the USSR) and to the presidiums of the supreme soviets of the Union and autonomous republics (for laws of these republics). Other state bodies may issue binding interpretations of laws in those cases when they are specially authorized to do so. For example, the plenum of the Supreme Court of the USSR has the right to issue guiding explanations to courts on the application of legislation in the consideration of court cases, and the State Committee on Labor and Social Problems of the USSR is authorized to issue to ministries and departments explanations on questions within its competence.
In capitalist countries official interpretation of a law is usually made by the supreme judicial body. In many countries, such as Great Britain and the USA, judicial interpretation of a law may have the result of changing the substance of the law and creating new legal rules, in particular, in the form of judicial precedent.
Interpretation of a law may be made by determining the meaning of individual words of the text of a law (grammatical interpretation), by clarifying the content of a rule by means of comparisons with other rules (systematic interpretation), or by clarifying the social conditions that gave rise to a law and the law’s original purposes (historical-political interpretation). Literal interpretation of the content of a rule of law, in exact correspondence with the literal meaning of the text of a law, is distinguished from extensive and strict interpretations, which are broader or narrower, respectively, than the literal meaning of the law’s text.