Statutory Interpretation

Flash cards helping to get to grips with statutory interpretation.

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What causes uncertainty in a statute?

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In Bennion 1990 it claims several factors cause uncertainty in an act:

  • Parliament has presumed that certain words will be automatically assumed and therefore didnt write them down.
  • Broad terms are used: Certain things mean different things to different people.
  • Ambiguous Purpose.
  • Circumstances have changed.
  • General mistakes were made.
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When interpreting a statute what approach do the judges follow?

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Literal approach


  • Parliament is sovereign and therefore the exact words they used should be followed.
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What does the judge use to help interpret statute?

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  • 3 Common Law Rules


  •  Must be used first
  • Gives a word is plain, ordinary, grammatical meaning


  • if a word is ambiguous in the statute the golden rule gives the word a meaning


  • if there is a gap in the law or the purpose of the law is uncertain use the mischief to fill the gap
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Explain Literal Rule

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The literal rule must be used first and the judges give words in the statue their plain ordinary grammatical meaning.


Fisher v Bell 1960

-Illegal to advertise bladed articles for sale but under contract law wasnt offering for sale it was classed as inviting to treat.

- Frustrates Parliament

Whitelely v Chappell 1869

-Man stole dead mans vote but wasnt classed as stealing as the man was dead so wasnt there to steal from.

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Explain Golden Rule

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When literal rule fails because of an ambiguous word that leads to an absurd or repugnant outcome the Golden rule is used.


R v Allen 1879

-Bigamy: Man technically only married once as everytime he got married again the previous marriages became void.

-Judge claimed ambiguous word was Marriage so changed to ceremony.

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When is the Golden Rule used?

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Meant to only be when an ambigous word is in the act however it has been used to stop a repugnant outcome.


Re Sigsworth 1935

-Killed mother for money and as the law was that the issue was to get money, no doubt issue meant offspring so he should get the money.

-Judge ruled this was to absurd so changed it to if they killed the parent they couldnt receive the money.

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Explain the mischief rule.

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Mischief rule is used when there is a gap in the law or they are unsure of the purpose of the law.

Rules outlined in Heydons Case 1584

  • Must look at previous common law
  • Look at what the mischief was the act failed to provide for
  • What parliament did to remedy the problem
  • What was the reason for the remedy
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When should the mischief rule be used?

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Only when there is a gap in the law.

However not always used for that.

Gardiner v Sevenoaks RDC 1950

-Smugglers held stolen goods in a cave but couldnt be convicted because a cave wasnt classed as property.

-Judge changed it to include caves.

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Outline the grammar rules

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Grammar rules are used to help interpret statutes:

Expressio Exlusio:

  •  If words in statute are specific they exclude all other words
  • Statute only applies to specific words

Ejudsdem Generis:

  • If general words follow specific words, the specific words are used to help give the general words a definition

Noscitur a Sociis:

  • Ambigous or doubtful words are defined by the context they are written in
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What are the common law presumptions?

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  • Mens Rea is needed
  • The jurisdiction of the courts will not be ousted
  • The crown will not be bound by state
  • It will not alter common law
  • It will not infringe on international law
  • It will not have a retrospective effect
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Explain Hansard and how the judges use it.

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Hansard is a document that shows everything that has ever been said in Parliament (Beneficial to see the intention of parliament)

Davis v Johnson 1978

-Judges werent allowed to look in Hansard

Pepper v Hart 1992

-Overuled DvJ and was allowed to look in Hansard

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Explain extrinsic aids

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  • Historical setting that the act was made in
  • Dictionaries to define words
  • Law reports
  • Treaties
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Farah Khan

Thank you very much!



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