Statutory Interpretation

Revision for Statutory interpretation (AQA)

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  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 26-05-10 11:05

Why we need Statutory Interpretation

We need it because, cases come before court, due to a dispute over the meaning of a law- and these parties ask for the court to interpret it.

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Meanings of a law may be unclear because...

* Broad term- Words, cover several, wide possibilities, and can lead to problems E.g. how wide this should go?

* Ambiguity- Words may have two or more meanings, so what meaning do we use?

* Drafting error- Parliamentry council who drafted original bill, may have made an error, which went unoticed .

* New developments- E.g in technology, may mean an old act of Parliament, does not cover the present day situation. E.g. Royal college of nursing v DHSS (1981)

* Changes in use of language- Words can change over time. E.g. Cheesman v DPP (1990)

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Literal Rule...

With this rule, words are given their plain, ordinary meaning.

The idea was expressed by Esher in, R v judge of the city of London court 1892.
( Defendant charged under section, offence to impersonate any person entitled to vote, defendant pretended to be a person whose name was on the voters list. But was dead, court said he was NOT GUILTY, since a dead person is not entitled to vote. )

  • Makes law more certain, as law will be interpreted exactly as its written.
  • Easier for people to know what laws are about.
  • Prevents unelected judges making law.


  • Assumes every act is perfectly drafted
  • Not possible to word acts to cover every situation Parliament wanted it to. E.g. Whiteley v Chappell (1868)
  • Words may have more then 1 meaning.
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Golden Rule...

With this rule, judges interpret a word/ phrase of an act, to avoid absurd conclusions. There are two views on how far the act should be used:

1. Narrow Application= Court may only chose between possible meanings of the words/phrases
2. Wider Application= Words have only one clear meaning, and leads to repugnant situation --> result should not be allowed. In this situation court will use Golden rule, to modify ords of statutes, to avoid this problem.

E.g. R v Allen (1872) commited section 57 offence, against a person act 1861
It was an offence to marry whilst original spouse was alive,
Marry= Legal OR go through ceremony
- Court decided he was not guilty of bigamy, as court took marry as "legally marry." So he could never be guilty of the offence, as you cannot marry again anyway whilst still married.

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Advantages & Disadvantages of Golden Rule...


  • Respects exact words of Parliament.
  • The Golden rule, provides an "escape route."
  • Allows judges to chose most sensible meaning.


  • It is very limited in use.
  • It is not predictable when courts will use the Golden rule.
  • Michael Zander said it is a "feeble escape"
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Mischief Rule...

This rule provides judges with more discretion then the other rules, the definition of this rule is from Heydens case 1581. The court should look at what the law was before, the act was passed in order to see what gap it intended to cover. The court should interpret act, in such way that the gap is covered.

E.g. Smith v Hughes (1960) Had to interpret, section 1 of the street offence act 1959
- A small group of Prostitutes, soliciting from a house.
- 1 was on the balcony, the rest where in windows on the ground floor.
- They were gaining attention from men, they were then arrested and charged, under the street offence act 1959.
- Because the act was aimed to clean up the streets.

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Advantages & Disadvantages of Mischief Rule...


  • It allows judges to look back at the gap the act tried to cover
  • It promotes the purpose of the act.
  • It produces a just result.


  • There is a risk of judicial law making.
  • It is not as wide as the purposive approach.
  • It can make law uncertain.
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Purposive Approach...

This rule, goes beyond the mischief rule, it is not just looking back at the gap the act tried to cover, but judges are deciding what they believe Parliament intended to achieve.

E.g. R v Registrageneral ex parte smith (1990,) the court had to consider section 51, of the adoption act (1976)

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Advantages & Disadvantages of Purposive Approach..


  • It can lead to justice in individual cases
  • It is useful when there is new technology, which is unknown when the law was enacted.
  • Judges have more discretion.
  • It avoids absurd decisions.


  • Judges refuse to follow clear words of Parliament.
  • It can make law uncertain.
  • It is difficult to discover, the intention of Parliament.
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Finding Parliaments Intention

What courts use to discover the intention of Parliament, and certain matters, they look at help to interpret the statute.

* Internal Aids - Matters in actual Act include:
- Headings of sections.
- Schedules.
- Short titles.
- Preamble – sets out Parliaments purpose in enacting the statute.

* External Aids - Matters outside the actual Act include:
- Previous acts of Parliament on the topic.
- Dictionaries of the time.
- Earlier case law.

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Rules of Language...

The ejusdem generis rule (of same kind)
E.g Powell v Kempton Park Racecourt (1899)

Expressio unuis exclusio alteruis (the mention of one this excludes others)
E.g. Tempest v Kelner (1846)

Abscitur a sociis ( a word known by the same company it keeps)
E.g. Inland Revenue commissioners v Frere (1965)

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