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Statutory Interpretation

The interpretation of Acts of Parliament by the judges

Some words and provisions in the `legislations/statutes' may
be ambiguous (having several possible meanings or
interpretations) or may be unclear.

Sometimes an Act may be deliberately drafted in broad
terms to allow the Act to be flexible.

The judge…

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The Rules of Interpretation

The Literal Rule
Words or phrases in an Act are given their ordinary, natural or dictionary meaning. The
literal rule does not allow a judge to create law. It requires application of the law as
stated by Parliament.

Application of the literal rule may lead to…

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Advantages and Disadvantages:


Respects the sovereignty of Parliament
Parliament is the supreme lawmaker. Judges are given a restricted role, they must
keep to the constitutional position of applying the law as set by parliament.

Leaves lawmaking to democratically elected Parliament
Judges are not elected and it is therefore not…

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The Golden Rule
Is an extension of the literal rule, it allows the court to look at the literal meaning of a
word or phrase but then avoid a literal interpretation which would lead to an absurd
result. There are two approaches taken while applying the golden rule

Narrow approach…

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Advantages and Disadvantages:


Prevents absurd/unjust outcomes
Re Sigsworth (1935), Allen (1872)

More likely to give effect to Parliaments intentions
Parliament would want to avoid absurd and unjust outcomes such as Fisher v Bell
(1961), LNER v Berriman (1946)


Uncertainty as to what is an absurd outcome is.

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The Mischief Rule
The court looks at the gap in the law which Parliament had felt it necessary to fill when
passing the Act. It then interprets the Act to fill that gap and to remedy the mischief
Parliament had been aiming to remedy.

Heydon's Case (1584) the judges said…


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