Statutory Interpretation


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Statutory Interpretation
Many cases come before the courts because there is conflict over the meaning of the Act.
It is the judge's role to work out the meaning of the law.
Judges are provided with the Interpretation Act 1978.
Bennion, an academic suggested possible misinterpretations:
New developments
Broad terms
Drafting errors
They can also use the rules of interpretation.
The Literal Rule
The judge reads the statute as a whole, putting the words into context, and having done this,
he gives them their normal meaning.
In doing so he will be expressing Parliament's true intention.
From the Victorian period.
The rule was out by Lord Esher in R v Judge of the City of London.
"The court has nothing to do with the question of whether the legislature has created an
The Judge will give words their ordinary meaning even it is ridiculous.
The judge sticks to exactly what the statue says and he does not question it.
Whitley V Chappell: impersonating a dead person was not an offence as they are not entitled to
Fisher V Bell: not guilty ­ because even though the flick knives were in the shop with a price tag,
they weren't for sale.
LNER V Berriman: widow's claim failed because the statue stated relaying/repairing ­ not
maintenance which oiling was counted as.
Advantages & Disadvantages
Agrees with Parliamentary Sovereignty Rigid approach
Agrees with Separation of Powers Assumes Acts are perfectly drafted
Creates certainty ­ public can predict the Can produce absurd, harsh or unjust decisions
outcome Parliament may not have intended
Judges do not question what Parliament have Does not take into account words have more
written than one meaning
Judges just declare the law Zander: "the literal rule is too mechanical."

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The Golden Rule
From the early 20th Century.
The rule states that the Literal Rule should be followed unless it would lead to an absurd
decision Parliament would not have intended.
It is known as the "safety valve".
The rule developed from the case of Becke V Smith (1843).
In Gray V Pearson, Lord Wensleydale stated:
"the grammatical ordinary sense of a word is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to
some absurdity"
NARROW APPROACH: chose between different meanings of a word.…read more

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The Mischief Rule
The courts discover reasons for the law by looking at the old fault and trying to fix it.
Heydon's case 1584.
The judge should consider:
o The old law before the statute
o The problem Parliament wanted to resolve
o What remedy Parliament wanted to achieve
Common sense approach.
Smith V Hughes: it was an offence to solicit in a public place. A prostitute was tapping the window to
attract men (from a balcony).…read more

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The Purposive Approach
Current approach to statutory interpretation.
Similar to the Mischief Rule.
Judges will seek to find Parliament's intention.
The court tries to discover reasons for which Parliament passed the statute.
They then give the words a meaning to fulfil its purpose.
Modern day.
Royal College of Nursing V DHSS: Abortion Act 1967 ­ solicit public place.
R (Quintavelle) V Sec State of Health: Act (embryo) "a live human embryo where fertilisation is
complete. Nuclear cell replacement ­ no fertilisation.…read more

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Aids to Interpretation
Intrinsic Aids: things inside the statute.
Rules of Language ­these help to work out the meaning of words/phrases.…read more

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Explanatory notes helpful since 1999 onwards Many older Acts (pre 1999) do not have
explanatory notes
Agrees with Separation of Powers
Extrinsic Aids: things outside the statute.
Records of all the debates taken place in Parliament.
Courts have been allowed to use Hansard since Pepper V Hart (1992).…read more

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More comprehensive view of Parliament's Conflicts with Parliamentary Sovereignty
More material to refer to than just the Act Can be lengthy/costly process
Deal more effectively with any issues by Conflicts with Separation of Powers
referring to a wider scope of information
Particularly useful for Mischief Rule and Lord Scarman: "Hansard can be `unreliable'
Purposive Approach and it `promotes confusion'
Lord Denning: Hansard is "switching a light on
in a dark room of Parliament's intentions"
Suddenly you can see exactly what Parliament
intended…read more


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