The Literal Rule

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The Literal Rule

  • Courts giving words their plain, ordinary or literal meaning even if the result is absurd
  • R v Jude of the City of London Court (1892)Developed during the 19th century and was the main rule until mid-20th century
    • 'If the words of an act are clear then you must follow them even though they lead to a manifest absurdity'

Cases Illustrating the Literal Rule

  • Whiteley v Chappell (1868)
    • Charged under a section making it an offence to impersonate 'any person entittled to vote'
    • D pretended to be a person whose name was on th evoting list but who had died
    • Court held that D was not guilty since a dead person is not, in th eliteral meaning of the words, 'entitled to vote'
    • Using the literal rule made the law adbsurd
  • London & North Eastern Railway Company v Berriman (1946)Cheesman v DPP (1990)
    • Railway worker killed whilst doing maintenance work, oiling parts along a line and was killed.
    • Widow tries to claim compensation because there hadn't been a look-out man provided by the railway company in accordance with regulation under the Fatal Accidents Act.


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