Dr Minhao Benjamin Chen

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Dr Minhao Benjamin Chen
University of California, Berkeley Ph.D. Jurisprudence and Social Policy J.D. (Order of the Coif) University College London M.A. Philosophy Ecole Polytechnique M.S. Applied Mathematics University of Chicago B.A. Economics, Minor in Romance Languages & Literatures
Position/Fellowship type:
Fellowship term:
02-Oct-2023 to 30-Aug-2024
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
Home institution:
University of Hong Kong
Email address:

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Summary of research interests and expertise:

Administrative and judicial processes and institutions. He studies consequentialist reasoning in law and policy, governance by and through courts, and the impact of artificial intelligence on justice and its administration. Research questions include:

  • Does fair warning require statutory language to be given the same meaning that it has in everyday discourse?
  • Do administrative procedures mitigate cognitive biases?
  • Does cost-benefit reasoning undermine support for life-saving regulation?
  • Can courts in non-liberal democracies influence public opinion?
  • Can algorithmic decisionmakers dispense procedural justice?
  • How does internet and artificial intelligence technology transform citizen experiences of the justice system?
Project summary relevant to Fellowship:

The nature and function of the linguistic canons in statutory interpretation.

The linguistic canons are employed in statutory interpretation to discern the meaning of legal text. The doctrine justifies them based on ordinary meaning and courts invoke them by appealing to intuitions about common usage. For example, Halbury’s Laws of England states that “[t]he linguistic canons of construction reflect the nature and use of language generally, and do not depend on the legislative character of the enactment in question, nor indeed on its quality as a legal pronouncement. They are not confined to statutes, or even to the field of law, being based on the rules of logic, grammar, syntax and punctuation; and the use of language as a medium of communication generally.”

Because the linguistic canons merely encapsulate the rules of language, they can be found in the jurisprudence of many legal systems, domestic or international. At the same time, it is unclear why the linguistic canons are needed at all. First, legal audiences tend to be accomplished users of the language in which the statutory text is written. It is doubtful whether they need linguistic canons to instruct them in how language operates. Second, the linguistic canons do not mandate any particular conclusion. Described as "rules of thumb," "presumptions," or "guides," they are easily overcome by other evidence of legislative purpose and intent. Indeed, the linguistic canons often have such qualifications built into them. The function of the linguistic canons is hence a puzzle.

This project asks whether the linguistic canons are otiose. More specifically, it questions whether the linguistic canons have any influence on how people interpret unclear language in legal as compared to non-legal contexts.  The hypothesis—that they do not—will be explored through case studies and vignette experiments. The findings of this research will have profound implications for our understanding of the nature and function of the linguistic canons.

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