Statutory Interpretation

Golden Rule

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Golden Rule

Extension of the literal rule. It allows the court to look at the literal meaning of a word pr phrase, but then avoid using a literal interpretation which would lead to an absurd result.

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Golden Rule

There are two approaches to the golden rule:

  • Narrow Approach
  • Broad Appraoch
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Broad Approach

Where there is only one literal meaning of a word/phrase, but to apply it would cause an absuridty, then under the broad approach the court will modify this meaning to avoid the absurdity.

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Application of Broad Approach


The D was charged under the Official Secrets Act 1920 with obstructing a member of the armed forces 'in the vicinity of a prohibited place'. The D argued that he was actually in the prohibited place, not in the vicinity of it, that is, near to it. Had the court applied this literal interpretation of the phrase the D would not have been guilty. The court therefore interpreted the phrase 'in the vicinity of' to include 'in' a prhibited place to avoid an absurd result.

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Narrow Approach

Where a word/phrase is capable of more than one literal meaning, the narrow application of the golden rule allows the judges to select the meaning which avoids an absurdity.

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Application of the Narrow Approach

R v ALLEN (1872)

The D married for a second time. He was charged under The Offences Against The Person Act 1861, which states it is an offence to marry without the previous marriage being ended in divorce. Allen argued that it was not possible to be legally married twice, so he could not have comitted an offence. This interpretation of the word 'marry' would mean that the offence is impossible to commit. The court had to decide whether 'marry' means to become legally married to another person, or whether it means to go through a ceremony of marriage. To avoid an absurd result the court adopted the second meaning and held Allen was guilty under the Act.

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Adantages of the Golden Approach

  • The golden rule allows judges to avoid giving effect to the absurdities sometimes produced by the literal rule. Justice can therefore be done and judges can prevent the law falling into disrpute.
  • Golden rule reflects real intention of Parliament.
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Disadvantages of the Golden Approach

  • No definition of what is an absurd result.
  • Too much power to judges - modify and create new law - not elected.
  • Michael Zander described rule as 'feeble parachute' - allows court to escape from problems caused by literal rule - court still limited in what they can do.
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