Advantages and disadvantages of the literal rule


Advantages and disadvantages of the literal rule


  • It respects the theories of Separation of Powers and Supremacy of Parliament by avoiding judges being accused of law-making.
  • Some judges argue that they are doing Parliament a service by drawing faulty legislation and loopholes to their attention (Fisher v Bell).
  • Alternative approaches might be unpredictable where the literal rule offers certainty and consistency. This makes it easier for people to know what the law is and how judges will apply it.


  • The rule clearly produces absurd, unjust and indefensible results which cannot represent Parliament's true intentions.
  • It ignores the fact that language has its limitations and can change in meaning over time. Thus, words will sometimes have to be given broader context to make sense of them.
  • The rule demands standards of unattainable perfection from the parliamentary draftsman.


Literal rule is used less by judges, as they now favour the purposive approach. Cases to illustrate the literal rule are: Bentham (gun), London and North Eastern Railway co. v Berriman (railway compensation) and Whitley v Chappell (voting).


No comments have yet been made