Statutory Interpretation

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Purposive Approach

  • Court doesnt only look at gap in old law, they decided what Parlaiment intended in setting the law.
  • Gives judges more discretion than other 3 rules.
  • Champion of approach was Lord Denning.
  • Lord Scarman was against this rule as he said it gave Judges too much power whent hey are unelected.
  • Going against Parliament. 
  • Most European countries use this approach.
  • Approach used in ECJ for interpreting EU law. 
  • Since UK joined EU in 1973 it is more widely used in England.


  • Royal College of Nursing V DHSS
  • Tesco V Brent LBC (1993)- Tesco sold age 18 DVD to 14 year old boy. Held Parliament intended company to be liable on the strength of its employees knowledge. 
  • Coltman V Bibby Tankers Ltd (1987)- Was a ship that had sunk to be classed as 'equipment'. Compensation given to the families as purpose of act was to was to protect workers in workplace. 
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Golden Rule

  • Modification of literal rule.
  • Looks at literal meaning but the court can then avoid an interpretation which would lead to an absurd result.
  • Narrow application, only used in small number of cases. 
  • Two situations:

First situation-

  • Word has more than one meaning- court can choose meaning of word in dispute.
  • Acts as 'safety valve' to literal rule. 

R V Allen- Man got married when he was already married. Court decided 'marry' meant go through ceremony of marriage so D found guilty. 

Second situation-

  • Words have one clear meaning but that meaning would lead to an unsatisfactory situation.

Re Sigsworth- Son murders mother for inheritence. Son would get the money because he was her 'issue'. Court uses golden rule to prevent son inheriting. 

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Literal Rule

  • Follows the exact definition of word.

Whiteley V Chappell- man pretended to be a dead man in order to vote. It was found a dead man didnt have the 'right to vote' in the first place, so he was held not guilty. 

LNER V Berriman- man killed on railway track whilst doing routine maintenence. Wife was denied compensation as he was not 'relaying' or 'repairing'. 

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Mischief Rule

  • Gives Judge more discretion than the other two rules. 
  • Court should look to see what the law was before the act was made in order to find the gap and therefore what 'mischief' in wanted to cover.
  • Court interprets the act in a way to cover this 'mischief'. 

Smith V Hughes- was an offence for a common pristitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution. Women were in windows and on balconies, was this classed as 'street'. Rule was to clear up streets so held they were guilty. 

Corkery V Carpenter- man drunk and riding bicycle from pub. Was the bike a 'carriage'? Held D was a danger to himself and others and this was the mischief that was trying to be covered. 

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