For purposes of statutory construction, courts and accountants use a series of “canons” to guide them. These include textual canons (internal aids), linguistic assumptions and grammatical conventions, objective canons and external aids. It is impossible to list them all, but there are some common canons, and these are very useful for legislation.
We begin with the careful and deliberate preparation of draft laws by the legislature. Because of this assumption, the normal practice of the judiciary is to narrow the law rather than to expand it, and the courts are by definition less activist.
There are several “tie-breaking rules” that apply when there is a 50/50 split in the interpretation of the law. An example of such a canon is the rule of leniency, where penal (or criminal law) laws must be strictly or narrowly interpreted to punish offenders.
The purpose of this narrow interpretation is to provide the alleged offender with adequate notice, due process and fairness. It is not usually used in a way that decides the case: “All the evidence is in favor of the accused, as is the rule.” Instead, it requires the construction of a strict criminal law provision.
In this way, the court will apply any unclear or ambiguous law in the light most favorable to the defendant. Therefore, the law of leniency is a canon used in criminal law, sometimes called “law of strict construction”, ambiguous law must be interpreted against the government.