Statutory Interpretation


Statutory Interpretation


Statute Law – Laws made in parliament by parliament

Statutory Interpretation – How judiciary interprets rules made by parliament 


The Literal Rule


The Literal Rule is used as a starting point for how the judiciary interprets Acts of Parliament.

  Under the Literal Rule, the judges will give the words being interpreted in the Statute Law their ‘ordinary and natural meaning” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Even if it will cause an “absurd result”.

   The Judge will give the words their “ordinary and natural meaning” at the time when the particular Act of Parliament was written/passed. Words used when the law was created may have changed their meaning/definition since.


Case examples of the Literal Rule


DPP v Cheeseman


The defendant was discovered in a public toilet masturbating by two police officers. The two police officers had been stationed at the public toilets after previous complaints about the defendant exposing himself.

   The court had to decide whether the Police were ‘passengers’ under the Town Police Causes Act of 1847. The Literal Rule was used to interpret ‘passenger’ and it was decided that it meant ‘Passing by or through’ a location.

  It was held that the police officers were not passengers in the toilet as they were not using it for ordinary use because they were stationed there. Thus they couldn’t be classed as ‘passenger’s’, therefore that particular Act could not be used in parliament.


London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) v Berriman (1946)


A railway worker was hit by a train while oiling points along the rail tracks. The oiling of the tracks was considered maintenance.

  The victims widow said that he wasn’t provided with a look-out man by the company, which he should have been under the Fatal Accidents Act. The Fatal Accidents Act said that the look-out men should only be provided for workers who were “repairing and relaying” the track.

   The judge used the Literal rule and held that ‘maintenance’ was not within the literal meaning of “repairing and relaying”. Thus London and North Eastern Railway are not liable and the widow did not receive compensation.


Whitely v Chappell (1868)


The defendant pretended to be a person on the voters list. The person who the defendant impersonated was dead. The defendant was charged with the Statutory Offence which made it illegal to impersonate another or “Any person entitled to vote”.

  The Literal Rule was applied and it was held that the statute law required the person to be “alive” in order to vote. The defendant was acquitted because they had impersonated someone who was not “alive”, and therefore not entitled to vote.




Fisher and Bell (1961)


The defendant had a knife displayed in his shops window with a price tag on it. It was a statutory offence to ‘offer’ to sell such a knife. The courts used the literal rule to interpret the


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