Rules of statutory interpretation

Literal rule, mischief rule, golden rule, purposive approach

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  • Created by: Nikita
  • Created on: 04-04-13 12:35

Literal rule

Gives words their plain, ordinary, gramatical meaning even if it makes the law absurd.

 - Viscount simmonds: If there are errors in the law it is parliaments job to correct them, and for judges to change the wording of an act of parliament is a "naked ursupation of the legislative function."

But using the literal rule can lead to unsatisfactory results: Whitely v Chappel - used a dead persons name to vote twice - law said a dead person cannot vote and so found him not guilty.

Ad: - Leaves law making to parliament - Viscount Simmonds

Dis: - Can lead to absurdities and harsh decisions 
 - Assumes that every act is perfectly worded - Whitely v Chappel (not what parliament intended so it had to be adapted with the golden rule) 

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Mischief rule

Oldest rule of interpretation.
Originates from Heydon's case (1584)

What was the common law before the act was passed?

What mischief was the new law designed to remedy?

What was the remedy propsed in the act?
- In terpret the law so as to remedy it. 

Example: Royal college of nursing v DHSS

Ad: - Allows fleibility - abortion act 1967 - allowed the law to adapt to new technology.

Dis:- Makes the law less certain - Stock v Frank Jones LTD Lord Simon
 - Risk of judges making law 

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Golden rule

Modifies the literal rule, this should be used when the literal rule gives an absurd result.

Narrow approach: Judge can choose beween 2 possible meanings of a word in order to avoid manifest absurdity.
 - R v Allen (s57 OAPA) interpreting the word marry as going through a ceremony

Wider approach: Court may redefine a word with only one meaning (if the meaning leads to absurdity). 
 - Re Sigsworth - used golden rule to change next of kin so he didnt inherrit the money after killing his mother.

Ad: - Leaves law making to parliament - R v Allen
 - Avoids manifest absurdities - Re Sigsworth 

Dis: - Creates uncertainty in the law - Michael Zander (unpredictable safety valve to escape from the unpalatable effects of the literal rule)
 -  Can only be used in limited circumstances - Law commission n 1969 (no clear guidelines as when to use to golden rule)

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Purposive approach

Modern descendant of the mischief rule, preffered by the european court of jutice. It emphasises on the purpose of the law concerened and interpreting it to give effectt to the purpose.

Described by the law commission as looking for the "positive social purpose of the legislation."

Example: Jones v Towerboot - racial harrassment in work place 

Ad: - Aims to fulfill parliaments intent

Dis - Undemocratic - Viscount Simmonds

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