The Literal Rule
- Words should be given their ordinary, dictionary meaning, with no exceptions. Lord Esher stated in R v Judge of the City of London Court (1892) that this should be done even if it leads to a 'manifest absurdity'.
- Judges who use this rule will believe it is their job to apply the law, and Parliament's job to make it.
- The rule was developed in the early 19th century and was the main rule used from then onwards. It is still a starting point for interpretation today.
- Whiteley v Chappell (1868). Defendant charged under a section which made it an offence to 'impersonate any person entitled to vote'. The person the defendant was pretending to be was dead, so the defendant was found not guilty; because taking it literally, a person who is no longer alive is not entitled to vote. This was an absurd result.
- London & North Eastern Railway Co v Berriman (1946). Railway worker killed while doing maintenace work on train tracks. His widow tried to claim compensation because there had not been a look-out man provided by the company; Fatal Accidents Act stated a look-out man should be provided if the worker was 'relaying or repairing' the tracks. Taking it literally, 'maintaining' was not the same as 'relaying or repairing', so Mrs Berriman's claim failed.
1.) Respects Parliament's authority, so is democratic.
2.) Unelected judges are not making law.
3.) Makes the law more certain & consistent, as people know judges will apply the law exactly as it is written.
1.) Assumes every Act will be perfectly drafted; this will not always be the case. It will not always be possible for an Act to cover every situation Parliament intended it to, such as with the Whiteley case.
2.) Words may have more than one meaning & language can change over time, e.g. Cheeseman v DPP (1990) case.
3.) It can lead to absurd or unjust decisions, for the reasons above, such as the Berriman case.
The golden rule
- A modification of the literal rule.
- Starts by looking at the literal meaning, but if doing this will lead to an absurd/unjust decision, the court is allowed to avoid it & can change the words of the Act if needs be.
- There are two approaches to this rule, a wide approach and a narrow approach.
- Narrow approach = a word has more than 1 meaning, and the court can choose a meaning.
- Wider approach = the words only have 1 clear meaning, but using that word would lead to an absurd/unjust result.
- R v Allen (1872). Defendant charged with getting married while still married to someone else. 'Offences against the Person Act' (1861) made it an offence to 'marry' while one's original spouse was still alive and there had been no divorce. The word 'marry' has 2 meanings: either the legally binding contract of marriage, or going…