The Golden Rule

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What is the Golden Rule?

  • A modification of the literal rule
  • Allows a court to avoid an interpretation which would lead to an absurd or repugnant result
  • There is a narrow and wide application of the rule
    • Narrow:- a word has more than 1 meaning
    • Wide:- Modify words to avoid a repugnant result
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Narrow Application of the Golden Rule

  • R v Allen (1872)- 2 meanings of the word 'marry'
    • S57 Offences against a person Act (1861) made it an offence to marry whilst ones original spouse was still alive and there had been no divorce
    • 'Marry' can have 2 meanings: legally married or go through a ceremony of marriage.
    • Allen had 'married' a 2nd time whilst legally married to his 1st wife. Court followed 2nd meaning of the word because 1st meaning applied, no one could be guilty of the offence. 
  • Adler v George (1964)
    • Official Secrets Act 1970 an offence to obstruct HM's Forces 'in the vicinity' of a prohibited place
    • Ds has obstructed HM Forces actually in the prohibited place. They argued they were'nt guilty as the literal meaning of the Act didn't apply to anyone inside the prohibited place: it only applied to those 'in the vicinity'
    • The Divisional Court found Ds guilty as it would be absurd if those obstructing outside were found guilty and those inside weren't. Words should be read as being 'in or in the vicinity of' the prohibited place
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Wider Application of the Golden Rule

  • The words have only 1 clear meaning but that would lead to a repugnant result i.e. a result which the court feels shouldn't be allowed
  • Here the court can modify the words of the Act to avoid the problem
  • Re Sigsworth(1935)-court writing into the Administration of Estates Act (1925) that issue couldn't inherit from someone they had killed
    • Son had murderd his mother
    • Mother had not made a will, so normally estate would've been inherited by her next-of-kin according to the rules set out in the Administration of Estates Act meaning her murderer son would've inherited ad her issue.
    • No ambiguity in the words of the Act but the court not prepared to let a murderer benefit from his crime. 
    • They held that the literal rule shouldn't apply and the golden rule would be used to prevent the repugnant decision of the son inheriting.
    • Court was writing into the act that someone could not inherit if they had killed the person from whom they'd be inheritin.
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Advantages of the Golden Rule

  • Respects the exact words of Parliament except in limited conditions
  • Provideds an 'escape route' out of the strict application of the literal rule
  • Allows the Judge to make a sensible decision
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Disadvantages of the Golden Rule

  • Very limited in its use so only used on rare occassions
  • Not always possible to predict when judges will use this rule
  • Professor Zander has described it as a 'feeble parachute'
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