There is nothing more dangerous than the common axiom, “the spirit of the laws is to be considered.” To adopt it is to give way to the torrent of opinions.

—Cesare Beccaria. Of Crimes and Punishments, 1764

Judges should give words their plain meaning even if that leads to absurdities.

When the judiciary attempt to give effect to the intent or spirit of the legislation, they are departing from the rule of law. The legislature has no mandate to rule through their intentions—only through promulgated laws. It is a mark of tyranny when bureaucrats and judges base their decisions not on the written law, but rather on the perceived intentions of the legislators. Consider these words of a German civil servant spoken in 1934:

Everyone with opportunity to observe it knows that the Fuhrer can only with great difficulty order from above everything that he intends … Rather, however it is the duty of every single person to attempt, in the spirit of the Fuhrer, to work towards him … the one who works correctly towards the Fuhrer along his lines and towards his aim will … one day … attain … legal confirmation of his work. (Quoted by Ian Kershaw in his book, Hitler: 1889 – 1936.)

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove