Statutory Interpretation, Judicial Precedent and the Judiciary

AS Law – Unit 1

Topic 1: Statutory Interpretation

There are three rules of statutory interpretation used by judges to interpret statute:

-          Literal Rule

-          Golden Rule

-          Mischief Rule

Literal Rule

This idea was expressed by Lord Esher in R v Judge of the City of London Court [1892]. He said:

“If the words of an act are clear then you must follow them even though they lead to a manifest absurdity. The court has nothing to do with the question whether legislature has committed an absurdity.”

This rule is where the judge will give statute its plain and ordinary meaning, and they’ll do this even if the result is absurd. There have been many cases where this rule has been applied.



Whiteley v Chappell [1868]

The defendant was being charged under an act that made it illegal to impersonate anyone entitled to vote. The defendant pretended to be a deceased person and as the deceased aren’t entitled to vote, the literal rule was applied and the defendant acquitted.

London & North Eastern Railway Co. v Berriman [1946]

A railway worker died. He was maintaining the track. His widow sought compensation but statute said “for the purposes of relaying and repairing”. The literal rule was applied and the widow received no compensation.

Cheeseman v DPP [1990]

Cheeseman indecently exposed himself in some public toilets. Officers were stationed at the site. They were not considered to be passengers. The court used the literal rule and the defendant was acquitted.

Advantages of the Literal Rule++:

-         Respects the words of Parliament.

-         Prevents judicial law making.

-         Provides certainty in the law.


Disadvantages of the Literal Rule:

-         Assumes an act will be perfectly drafted.

-         Words may have more than one meaning.

-         Can lead to unfair or unjust decisions.

-         Michael Zander denounced the literal rule as being “mechanical and divorced from the realities of the use of language.”

Golden Rule

This rule was first expressed by Lord Reid in Jones v DPP [1962]:

“It is a cardinal principle applicable to all kinds statutes that may not for any reason attach to a statutory provision a meaning which the words of that provision cannot reasonably bear. If they are capable of more than one meaning, then you can choose between those meanings, but beyond this you cannot go.”

The golden rule is a modification of the literal rule. This enables judges to use a meaning that will help them avoid an absurd result. This rule has been used many times.



Adler v George [1964]

The defendant obstructed Her Majesty’s Forces in the vicinity of a prohibited place. The defendant were actually inside, so they claimed they had not broken any law. The golden rule was applied and they were convicted.

Re Sigsworth [1935]

A son killed his mother to get his inheritance. The golden rule was applied because it…


No comments have yet been made