Statutory interpretation


Literal Rule cases

Whitely v Chappel 

A man used his own vote in an election and then used the vote of a dead man to vote again. A statue made it an offence to 'impersonate any person entitled to vote' The literal rule was applied and the man was found Not guilty because the statue specified any person 'entitled' to vote and dead people are not entitled to vote and therefore he hadn't broken the law. 

Fisher v Bell

In Fisher V Bell a shop owner had a window display of flick knives. The offensive weapons act 1959 said it was an offence  to 'offer for sale offensive weapons such as guns and flick knives'. He was found not guilty as shop window displays are known as 'invitations to treat' and therefore he hadn't offered the knives for sale. 

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Mischief rule definition

Mischief rule 

Using this rule the court looks at the gap in the law which parliament had felt necessary to fill when passing the Act. It then interprets the Act to fill the gap and remedy the mischief parliament had been aiming to remedy.

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The golden rule defintion

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Extrinsic Aids

Previous Acts

Previous Acts can be reffered to to help understand the words in an Act. In Wheately the Court of Appeal had to interpret the provsions of explosive substances Act 1883. The long title of this act was "An act to amend the law relating to explosvie substances, amending the explosives act 1875." Therefore the court looked at the earlier Act to make sense of the 1883 Act. 

Interpretation Act 1978

The interpretation Act 1978 provides general guidance to the interpretation of common terms. For example, words importing the masculine gender should be construed to import the feminine and vice versa. words in the singular include the plural. 

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Mischief rule advantages and disadvantages


it is flexible and as a result can avoid the injustice of a literal interpretation and can promote fairness

This approach takes into account recent developments e.g in science and technology this was shown in Royal College of Nursing V DHSS

It tries to get beyond the wording and apply 'spirit' of the Act giving effect to the will of parliament. This may save parliament time if the courts correctly apply the 'intention of parliament' 


Makes use of external aids such as Hansard which are not always accurate in finding parliaments intention. 

Judges are making law by changing words in Acts, as judges are unelected this is considered contradictory to 'separation of powers' for judges to tamper with the wording of Acts 

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The literal rule definition

The literal rule requires the judge to apply the plain ordinary meaning of the words in a statute.

The judge is required to use the English Oxford version of the dictionary from the year the act was passed. 

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Intrinsic Aids


Schedules appear as additions to the main body of the Act. They can be refered to in order to make some sense of the main text. In some cases it will be necesarry to refer to the schedules to understand the Act. In the Hunting Act 2004 it says "hunting is exempt if it is within a class specified in schedule 1"

Long title

Since the 19th century Acts can havea long title which gives a plain "guide to general objectives of a statute"  This is useful when applying the mischief rule or the purposive approachThe christmas day trading Act 2004's long title is "an Act to prohibit the opening of large shops on christmas day and restrict... such shops on Christmas Day" 

Interpretation sections

Some acts have an interpretation section where key words which appear in the Act are defined, in the Theft Act 1968 provides definitions of all elements of offence and how to interpret definitions for example 'property' includes money.

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Mischief rule cases

Heydons Case

Heydons case said the court should look at four things when attempting to interpret a statutory provision: 1. What was the common law before the Act was passed? 2. what is the true reason for the remedy? 3. what remedy does the act attempt to provide as to cure the defect? 4. what was the defect for which the common law didnt provide a remedy?

Smith V Hughes 

The street offenses Act 1959 made it an offense for a "common prostitue to solicit or loiter in a street or public place" 6 women were charged after calling to men from a balcony and open downstairs window of a private building. They were found guilty as the court wanted to solve the mishcief of the passers by.

Royal College of nursing V DHSS

The Abortion Act 1967 stated an abortion is only legally performed if carried out by a registered medical practioner such as a surgeon. By 1972 it had become common practice for nurses to carry out the first stage of an abortion under the supervision of a surgeon. They were sued in an atempt to stop this practice. Found not guilty as the act was meant to ensure safe abortions which nurses could do.

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