Statutory Interpretation

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Extrinsic and Intrinsic

Intrinsic - found within a statute
Extrinsic - found outside the statute

The use of extrinsic aids has been restricted in recent years there has been relaxation.
[Pepper v Hart] (1993)

Judges have been permitted to increasingly use external aids.

Judges have to work out Parliament's intention in an act.



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Examples of Aids.


  • Statute as a whole
  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Punctuation
  • Preamble
  • Side notes


  • Oxford English Dictionary of the time
  • Other Acts of Parliament.
  • International Conventions, EU Regulations, Directives EU Law.
  • Official Law Commission Reports
  • Interpretations Act 1978
  • Explanatory Notes
  • Hansard
  • Human Rights Act 1998.


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  • An edited record of what Parliament has said
  • It was not possible to use Hansard til the 1990's.
  • The HoL used the practice statemnet in [Pepper v Hart] (1993) to allow judges to use hansard
  • Lord Denning favoured Hansard -
  • No single person or group can represent the will of Parliament. Therefore it's wrong to rely on one speech.

Hansard can only be used in these situatuions.

  • Legislation is ambiguous, obscure or leads to absurdity.
  • Where the statement that a judge wants to use has been made in Parliament by a minister
  • Where the statement is to be used is quite clear in its meaning.

Lord Denning.

  • "Some may say.. taht judges should not pay any attention to waht is said in Parliament. they should ***** about in the dark for the meaning of an Act without switching on the light. I do not accede to this view"
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Literal Rule

  • Traditional
  • Strict "black letter of the law"
  • Passive judges
  • Judges apply the plain ordinary grammatical meanind of the words
    [R v Judge City of London Court - if the words of an Act of Parliament are clear, then a judge must follow them even if it leads to a manifest absurdity (ridiculous outcome)

[London and North Eastern Railway v Berriman] 1946
[Cheesman v DPP] 1990

- respects parliamentary soverignity
- maintains the 'seperation of powers' prevents judges from having too much power.
- encourages certainty/consistency in the law
- unelected judges are not making law

-Harsh, absurd results,
- too rigid
-defeats parliaments intentions.

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Golden Rule

  • created to avoid harshness/absurdity
  • Judges use the literal rule but then if it leads to absurdity (repugnant situation) or is ambiguous the golden rule can be used to give a slightly different meaning to the words.
  • Narrow Interpretation - wording of the statute is ambiguous the Golden Rule chooses the words which would leadt to the least absurd result [Alder v George] 1964
  • Wide interpretation - the Golden Rule is used to avoid a repugnant situation
  • [Re: Sigworth] 1935

-avoids the worst possible problems of the literal rule.
- justice and fairness in individual cases
- resepects parliamentary supremacy (doesn't give judges complete freedom)

-no clear objective that determines what 'repugnant' or 'absurd' situation means.
-too much discretion to choose between words
-unelected judges making law
-uncertainty in the law

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Mischief Rule

  •  oldest rule dates back to the 16th century
  • judges look for the 'gap' that the Act intended to cover and will interpret the Act of Parliament to cover the gap
  • uses extrinsic aids

[Heydon's] Case 1584
What did the common law say before the Act of Parliament was passed.
- What was the 'gap' that the common law did not account for
-How did Parliament intedn to remedy the mischief

[Smith v Hughes] (1960)
[Royal College of Nursing v DHSS] (1981)

-greater flexibility
-helps achieve parliamentary intent
-removes absurdity

-relies on extrinsic aids
-unelected judges making law (doesn't support the seperation of powers)

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Purposive approach 1

  • judges focus on 'finding parliaments intention/purpose
  • modern approach 20th century
  • activist judges
  • contextual approach in interpreting legislation. apply the 'spirit' of the law considering the wider social purpose of legislation rather than simply using the text of the statute.
  • judges look outside.behind the legislation in attempt to find its meaning

eu influence
-Uk joined the EU in 1972
-Simpler drafting
-use of broad terms
-setting out general principles
-S2(4) European Communities Act 1972 - courts must consider the wider economic and social aims of EU law rather than just the words themselves
- Human Rights Act 1998 - there is a need for purposive interpretation in dealing with [cases]
-S3 Human Rights Act 1998 - so far as it is possible to do so, legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights

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Purposive approach 2

  • [Pepper v Hart] 1993 - to allow judges to use Hansard in order to find the purpose of statutes.
  • judges are less worried about acting creatively

[Pepper v Hart] 1993
[ R v Registrar General ex parte Smith] 1990

-judges have flexibility
-leads to justice in individual cases and fairness is better
-avoids absurdity and injustice
-allows judges to take account of changes in society and tech
-gives effect to parliaments true intentions

-this rule relies heavily on the ue of extrinsic aids
-unconstitutional as unelected judges are making law
-doesn't support the separtation of powers
-goes against parliamentary supremacy
-its limited

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Ejusdem Generis

  • a list of words followed by general words are limited to the same kind of items as the specific word
  • thre must be at least two specific words in a list before the general word or phrase for his rule to work

[Hobbs v CG Robertson LTD] (1970)
[Allen v Emmerson] (1944)

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Expressio Unius Exclusio Alterius

  • where there is a list of words which is not followed by general words then the Act only applies to the itms in the list
  • (.)

[Tempest v Kilner] (1846)

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Noscitur a Sociis

  • this means that the words must be looked at in contxt and intepreted accordingly. it involves looking at other words in the same section or other sections of the Act.

[Inland Revenue Commissioners v Frere] 1965
[Bromley London Borough Council v Greater London Council] 1982

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J Drabble


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