Statutory Interpretation

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  • Created on: 08-05-10 19:16
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In order to declare and apply the law, judges have developed three main rules of interpretation (in
addition to the use of the Interpretation Act 1978) to support them in their work.
Explain and illustrate the literal rule (approach).
The literal rule means the judge reads the statute as a whole, puts the words into context and
having done this, gives them their normal, ordinary meaning. In doing so, he will be expressing
Parliament's true intention from the words used within the statute. It was outlined 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 absurdity". A judge will give words their ordinary meaning even if it is
ridiculous and sticks to what the statute says.
In Whitely v Chappell it was an offence to impersonate any person entitled to vote. When D cast
his vote in the name of a dead person he was not impersonating someone entitled to vote as
dead people have no such entitlement. Therefore D could not, using the literal rule be found
guilty. In Fisher v Bell it was unlawful to sell or offer for sale flickknives. D had a flickknife
displayed in his shop window but was not liable because an item displayed in a shop window is
not literally an offer for sale. In LNER v Berriman the railway worker was `maintaining' the line so
he was not entitled to a lookout man for safety. Only those who were `relaying or repairing' the
line were entitled to this. Using the literal rule, when Berriman was killed by a train, LNER were
not at fault. Each of these decisions were absurd.
Explain and illustrate the golden rule (approach).

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The golden rule states that the literal rule should be followed unless it would lead to an absurd
decision which Parliament would not have intended. It is known as the safety valve and was
developed in Becke v Smith (1843). In Gray v Pearson Lord Wensleydale stated that "the
grammatical and ordinary sense of the word is to be adhered to unless that would lead to some
There are two approaches to the golden rule.…read more

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Expressio unius est exclusio alterius
means the `express mention of one excludes others' and is used when it is a list of words only.
This means the law only applies to the words in the list, e.g., Tempest v Kilner the list of `goods,
wares and merchandise' did not include `stocks and shares'. Noscitur a sociis means the
meaning is taken from the surrounding words (considering a word / phrase in context), e.g.…read more

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Judges do not question Parliament's wording of the statute but simply declare Parliament's true
intention by keeping to the words in the Act.
Also, the literal rule supports Montesquieu's theory of the Separation of Powers because the
judges are simply carrying out their role by declaring the meaning and are not making the law as
only Parliament should do this. Furthermore, the literal rule creates certainty within the law as it is
a precise way of working out the meaning of it.…read more

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By using this rule, the judge should be declaring Parliament's true intention because
the meaning is derived from the reason. Additionally, the Law Commission pointed out in support
of the mischief rule that it is a "rather more satisfactory approach". It produces the most just
Disadvantages of the mischief rule are that it does not agree with the Separation of Powers. This
is because it is the role of the judges to test and apply the law and only parliament should be
making it.…read more

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Intrinsic aids also agree with Parliamentary Sovereignty as the judges only consider what
Parliament has provided and do not question their law making by looking elsewhere. The recent
addition of Explanatory Notes from Acts made after 1999 are a very helpful aid as they explain
the purpose of the Act without the judge having to use an extrinsic aid such as Hansard or Law
However, intrinsic aids are quite limited as the judge only looks within the Act.…read more


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