Book Review: Researching Legislative Intent–A Practical Guide

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Researching Legislative Intent: A Practical Guide. By Susan Barker & Erica Anderson. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2019. xxi, 284p. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-55221-513-5 (softcover) $60.00; ISBN 978-1-55221-514-2 (PDF) $60.00.

Reviewed by Ann Marie Melvie
Law Librarian
Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan
In CLLR 45:4

As a Canadian legal information professional who teaches a course called “Fun with Legislation” to articling students every year, I’m delighted that Susan Barker and Erica Anderson have written a book on researching legislative intent!

This is the first time we’ve seen a comprehensive resource that takes researchers through the sometimes-difficult task of researching both federal and provincial legislation. It is written by legal information professionals for legal information professionals, lawyers, and anyone who finds themselves researching federal and provincial legislation in Canada.

The book begins with a history of legislative intent and statutory interpretation and provides a thorough explanation of the reasons why researching legislative intent has become so important in Canada. Included are definitions of terms that the reader will encounter throughout the book, as well as a clear explanation of Driedger’s modern principle of statutory interpretation. The authors then move into a discussion of how a bill moves through the legislative process. The federal and provincial processes are dealt with simultaneously. This could have been slightly cumbersome, but the authors meld the two processes together very well.

What follows is a discussion of intrinsic aids to statutory interpretation (preambles, titles, etc.) and extrinsic aids to statutory interpretation (legislative debates, committees, other sources). The section on committees includes an important list of print and online sources for committee materials. The section on other sources includes finding tools for government policy papers, sessional papers, commissions of inquiry, law reform commission reports, and more.

Chapters on how to trace the evolution and the history of a statute use concrete examples that will be helpful to the researcher. And they don’t just give easy examples. They use examples that have twists and turns, so that the researcher understands that these twists and turns can be expected from time to time, even though researching legislative intent is typically a little more straightforward.

The chapter on the interpretation of treaties with Indigenous Peoples provides much needed information on this important aspect of legislation. The authors then discuss statutory instruments, royal prerogative, and delegated legislation, followed by a step-by-step guide to tracing the evolution and history of a regulation.

The book has three appendices: “Definitions of Regulations” as they exist in federal and provincial legislation, a list of and contact information for “Federal, Provincial and Territorial Parliamentary Libraries and Archives in Canada,” and a handy outline of the “Process of a Bill.”

It is easy to see why this publication was shortlisted for CALL/ACBD’s prestigious 2020 Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing. It is easy to read and doesn’t get caught up in technicalities. The detailed table of contents, the handy checklists found throughout the book, the glossary, and the index are all very well put together. The authors refer to numerous helpful resources and tell you where to find them. The footnotes throughout lead to other excellent materials.

I found the book very interesting and I read it from cover to cover. However, a thorough read isn’t necessary. The researcher can delve into to the chapter needed in the moment and find the information they require for the task at hand. For example, if the researcher is interested in learning about legislative debates, a brief history is provided in Chapter 4. A more thorough discussion of the history is outlined in Chapter 1.

As the authors note in the introduction, researchers are often left wondering if they’ve properly completed the task of researching legislative intent. This practical guide gives researchers the tools to answer that question and know that they’ve completed the process properly.

This reasonably priced publication will be a valuable addition to any law library. And I highly recommend it to law professors who teach Legal Research and Writing courses and suggest they recommend it to their students.

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