Statutory Interpretation

  • Created by: peronella
  • Created on: 04-12-18 21:41

What is statutory interpretation?

The procedure by which a judge works out the meaning of words in an Act and how this applies to the facts of the case before them. In some cases, occasional words require interpreting. Reasons:

  • A broad term is used. Example - Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, 'type' known as the pit bull terrior. 
  • Changes in the use of language. Example - 'gay'. Cheeseman v DPP (1990)
  • Ambiguous words. Some have more than one meaning, e.g. 'bar' or 'wind'.
  • A drafting or other error. May not have been picked up during the Bill stage.
  • New developments. Changes in technology, e.g. Royal College of Nursing v DHSS (1981) - subsequent medical methods and advances may not have been foreseen at the time of passing the Act. 
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Literal Rule

Judge gives the words contained in the statute their ordinary and plain meaning even if this causes an absurd result. Many think this should be the first rule applied. 

Whiteley v Chappel (1968)

Vote - impersonating dead person. 

Advantage - Respects parliamentary sovereignty

Disadvantage - Can cause absurd results

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Golden Rule

More flexible approach to recitfy the absurdity. Can either take a narrow or a wide interpretation considering the statute as a whole. Use intrinsic aids

Adler v George (1964)

Reminder: 'in the vicinity of a public place'.

Advantages: seeks to apply words used by Parliament, allows judges to avoid absurd results, allows judges only enough freedom to correct errors, and doesn't rely on Parliament to correct mistakes in drafting.

Disadvantages: no clear definition of absurdity, difficult to predict where it will be used, limited range of situations in which it can be used, can be thought judges making law

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Mischief Rule

Laid out in Heydon's Case (1584)

Allows judges to look for the 'mischeif' or problem the state was passed to remedy. Directs the judge to use external aids and look for Parliament's intention in passing the Act. 

Elliot v Grey (1960)

Road Traffic Act 1930. Using an unisured car on the road. 

Advantages: seeks to give Parliaments real intention, avoids absurd and unfair results, allows loopholes in legislation to be closed, doesn't rely on Parliament, allows the law to adapt to new developments.

Disadvantages: doesnt respect Parliamentary sovereignty, less certainty of outcome, too much judicial discretion, could be said to be 'backward looking'

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Purposive Approach

Similar to mischief rule - looks for intention or aim of the Act

Become more common since the UK joined the EU, due to the different way in which EU laws are drafted. EU laws more vaguely written - judges need to look for 'purpose' of the Act, Lord Denning: 'the spirit of the legislation'.

Magor and St Mellons Rural District Council v Newport Corporation (1950)

Advantages: Parliament's true intention, avoids unfair and absurd results, allows loopholes to be closed, doesn't rely on Parliament to correct mistakes, allows the law to adapt to unforeseen situations.

Disadvantages: doesn't respect Parliamentary sovereignty or separation of powers, less certainty of outcome, too much judicial discretion, said to be making the law. 

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