H.L.A Hart’s – ‘vehicle in the park’ conundrum; on the method of fair reading of statutes.

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This is an example borrowed from the famous jurist H.L.A. Hart. Let’s do a little exercise, there is an ordinance that states “No person may bring a vehicle into the park.”. This leads to the question as to what qualifies as a “vehicle”. This example, according to Hart himself illustrates that there are “debatable cases in which words are neither obviously applicable nor obviously ruled out.” HLA Hart beckons the reader to answer as to whether the no-vehicle rule applies to these items :

  1. Airplanes
  2. Automobiles
  3. Bicycles
  4. Roller skates
  5. Baby Strollers
  6. Gliders
  7. Wheelchairs
  8. toy automobiles
  9. Ambulances
  10. Motorized Wheelchairs
  11. skateboards
  12. Tricycles

Does this lead to some critical thinking? That’s precisely the idea. The meaning of the term ‘vehicle’ would be crucial here. One of the meanings of the word ‘vehicle’ is “a substance, esp. a liquid serving as a means for the readier application or use of another substance mixed or dissolved in it”. It is clear that this is not the sense in which the word is used in the above ordinance. What is really the sense, then?. Do you find the next definition more agreeable for the purpose : “a means of carrying or transporting something”. If that be the meaning, what about a wheelchair; that would be ruled out from the park, right? No parks for senior citizens, then? or atleast sick ones? What about baby strollers? And bicycles (see : fitness)?

Would you be tempted to add – only those vehicles “which are motorised”.

How about a motorised wheelchair, then?

And how about an ambulance? An ambulance is definitely a means of carrying or transporting something (sick people!).

What about this definition : “a self-propelled conveyance that runs on tires; a motor vehicle”? If that be the case, should you tell your nephew to kiss good-bye his plans for taking his favourite remote controlled car to the park.

Not that easy now, right? Your thoughts in the comments sections would be nice!

 

One comment

  1. This where purposive interpretation kicks in. The purpose is to keep a park place free of those vehicles which emit pollution and noise. If we follow Austin’s construct of law, we would end up defeating the purpose of the provision. So for a judge what is important is to see the purpose for which the legislation was inacted.

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