OCR LAW G152 Revision Notes on Statutory Interpretation

Complete revision notes on this topic, includes Rules of Interpretation and Language, presumptions, intrinsic and extrinsic aids. Hope it helps :)

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  • Created on: 27-02-12 18:42
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Law Revision Notes ­ G152 Statutory Interpretation
It is the role of the judge to interpret the wording of statutes which may be
unclear. There are certain approaches which a Judge may use to help him with his
interpretation. The Judge's aim is to see the intention of Parliament.
Problems of interpreting statutes:
A broad term
o There may be words designed to cover several possibilities, this can lead to problems as
to how wide this should go.
o Brock v DPP (1993) ­ What is meant by the word `type' in `any dog of the type known as
the pit bull terrier' in Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Court decided type has a wider
meaning than breed and can cover dogs that were no pit bull terriers, but similar.
Ambiguity when a word has two meanings and it may not be clear which one to use
A drafting error the original Bill may contain an error unnoticed by Parliament
New developments An old Act does not cover present day situations
o Royal College of Nursing v DHSS (1981) ­ Abortion Act 1967 did not account for new
methods which allowed nurses to help in the procedure.
Changes in the use of language The meaning of words can change over the years
o Cheeseman v DPP (1990) ­ Policemen stationed in public toilets to apprehend a man
masturbating were not `passengers' as in 1847 (when the Act was passed) passenger
means `a passer by or through; a traveller (on foot) or wayfarer'
Rules of Statutory Interpretation
1) The Literal Rule
Under this rule the courts will give words their plain, ordinary or literal meaning even if the result
is not sensible. This has been the main rule applied since the early 19th Century.
First expressed by Lord Esher in R v Judge of the City of London Court:
`The court has nothing to do with the question whether the legislator has committed an absurdity'
Whitley v Chappell (1868)
o Defendant charged under section stating it was `illegal to impersonate anyone entitled
to vote'. D impersonated someone who was on the voters' list but had died.
o Court held that the defendant was not guilt as technically someone dead was no longer
entitled to vote. This was an absurd outcome as this behaviour is what the Act tried to

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LNER v Berriman (1946)
o Railway worker killed whilst doing maintenance work on a railway line. Widow tried to
claim compensation as no look out man had been provided as stated under the Fatal
Accidents Act.
o The Act stated a look out is needed for `relaying or repairing' and oiling the line, as the
worker had been doing, was not under either of these so the claim was unsuccessful.
This was an unjust outcome.…read more

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When there is only one meaning for the words but this will lead to a repugnant situation. In these
cases the court will use the Golden Rule to modify the words of a statute.
Re Sigsworth (1935)
o Sons had murdered his mother, and as she hadn't left a will he was due to inherit the
estate under the Administration of Estates Act 1925.…read more

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Women convicted appealed that they were not `in a street' ­ one had been on a balcony
and others in the windows of ground floor rooms, trying to attract the attention of men
by tapping on the windows.
o The court decided they were guilty as the Act intended to `enable people to walk along
the streets without being molested or solicited' and it matters little where they are.…read more

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Extrinsic aids such as Hansard and law reports can be used to find the intention of Parliament.
Fitzpatrick v Sterling House Association (1999) Using the purposive approach, the House of
Lords ruled that a tenancy could be transferred to a same sex partner as they are the equivalent
of a wife or husband, despite this not legally being the case.
R (Quintavelle) v Secretary of State for Health Act stated that embryo meant `a live human
embryo when fertilization is complete.…read more

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Used in Powell v Kempton Park Racecourse (1899) charged with `keeping a house, office,
room or other place for betting'. However his betting took place outside, and as the other
places In the list are indoors, it is presumed `other place' is also indoors. Found not guilty.
Must be at least two specific words before the general word.…read more

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Sweet v Parsley (1970) D.…read more

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Previous Acts on the same topic
o The historical setting
o Earlier case law
o Dictionaries of the time
Aids allowed due to recent changes in attitudes:
Hansard ­ the official report of what was said in Parliament when the Act was debated
o Davis v Johnson (1978) ­ Denning "Why grope around in the dark for the meaning of an
Act without switching on the light?". House of Lords ­ "Such material promotes confusion
and not clarity.…read more


Vicky Hendry - Team GR

Great resource, thanks!

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