Statutory Interpretation


Parliamentary Sovereignty/supremacy - A court must not and cannot challenge an Act of parliament.

The separation of powers: Executive - Government and public bodies (law enforcer), Legislature - Parliament (law maker), Judiciary - Judges (law applier).

Why there are problems : 

-Parliament make the laws then the courts have to apply them,

-Even though Acts are carefully written by parliamentary draftsmen, there are many occasions when a court do not find the meaning of an Act as clear as it should be

a) Statutes are written in a mixture of ordinary and technical language the meaning of which is not always clear or which changes over time - Cheeseman v DPP 1990 where he was caught masturbating in a public lavatory 'offence of wilfully and indecently exposing his person in a street to the annoyance of passengers' Found not guilty because the lavatory was decided not to be a public place.

b) A statute has been written in broad terms making it difficult to know what exactly is included in it - Brock v DPP difficulty in the wording of 'type of dog' in the Dangerous Dogs Act.

c) The eact was not written to allow for future unforeseen events of new developments - Royal College of Nursing v DHSS 1981 - the phrase of 'medical practitioner' in the Abortion Act.

d) A word or phrase is ambiguous and it is unclear which of the two meanings should be used.

e) The drafting contains errors or gaps.

How can judges discover what Parliament intended to do or what Parliament meant when they were making the Act?

Once the courts interpret a statute they create case law and this makes the interpretation binding in all later, similar cases.

Parliamentary help

Interpretations Act 1978 - defines the most commonly used words and phrases. He always includes she and singular always includes plural unless the Act clearly states otherwise.

Interpretations sections of Acts - some acts contain their own interpretations section, Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Literal Approach: Taking it word for word, give the words their plan, ordinary or literal meaning even if the result is not very sensible. - Whitely v Chappell 1868 'It is an offence to impresonate a person who is entitled to vote', it was questioned whether this included the impersonation of dead people. He was aqquited. - London and NE Railway v Berriman anyone 'repairing or relaying the track' is entitled to a lookout. He was only doing maintanence so his wife lost the case.

Purposive Approach: What does it mean, interpreting a statute in a much broader way so that it will carry out the intentions of Parliament. This approach is used in European law. - R v Registrar - General, ex parte Smith 1990 '' does this include if their is a serious risk. Judge ruled it was too dangerous. - R (Quintavalle) v Secretary of State 2003 'embryo means a live human embryo where fertilisation is complete'. House of Lords


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