• Words are an imperfect means of communication
  • Words very often have more than one meaning i.e. they can be ambiguous

  • A broad term may be used in a statute which can give rise to confusion and uncertainty
  • There may be errors or omissions when the statute is drafted
  • New developments in society can make the words used in a statute out of date and they may no longer cover the current situation
The Rules of Interpretation
The Literal Rule
This uses the plain, ordinary, literal, grammatical meaning of the words in the statute.
  • Whiteley v Chappell (1868)  Where someone impersonated a dead person in order to vote at an election
  • Fisher v Bell (1960)  Where the legal meaning of the words were used to interpret a statute
  • R v Judge of the City of London Court (1892)  'If the words of an Act are clear, then you must follow them, even though they lead to a manifest absurdity'
The Golden Rule
If the use of the Literal Rule would lead to an absurdity then the Golden Rule may be used.
There are two applications of the Golden Rule
The Narrow Application
Where words are capable of having more than one meaning the meaning which is least absurd should be used   R v Allen (1872)
The Wider Application
This is used to avoid a repugnant result  Re Sigsworth (1935)
The Mischief Rule
This was first used in Heydon's Case (1584).  The courts looks for the mischief the statute was passed to stop  Smith v Hughes (1960)
The Literal verus the Purposive approaches to Statutory Interpretation
Should judges interpret statutes so as to give effect to the intention or purpose of the statute, the purposive approach, or should judges take the literal meaning of the words in a statute, the literal approach?
Arguments in favour of the literal approach
  • Judges should give words their literal meaning, their job to not to make the law but to apply it
  • The litreral appraoch is preferred by conservative judges
Arguments in favour of the purposive approach
  • Judges try to decide what the purpose of the statute was, what was Parliament attempting to achieve?
  • The purposive approach is perferred by creative judges such as Lord Denning
  • The Europeans prefer the purposive approach
The Modern Approach to Statutory Interpretation
The courts have recently integrated the traditional approaches to the interpretation of statutes.  The courts respect the actual words used but rather than stick rigidly to them, interpret them in the context in which they appear, and the underlying purpose of the statute.
Intrinsic (Internal) Aids to Statutory Interpretation
These are things found within the statute which help judges understand the meaning of the statute more clearly
  • the long and the short title
  • the preamble
  • definition sections
  • schedules
  • headings
Extrinsic (External) Aids to Statutory Interpretation
These are things found outside of the actual statute which may be considered by judges to help them understand the meaning of a statute more clearly
  • dictionaries
  • historical setting
  • previous statutes
  • earlier case law
  • Hansard   Pepper v Hart
  • Law Commission Reports
  • International Conventions
Rules of Language
ejusdem generis - Where specific words are followed by general words, then the general words are limited to things of the same kind.   Powell v Kempton Park Race Course (1899)
expressio unius est exclusio alterius - The express mention of one thing excludes others not mentioned.  Where there is a list of words which is not followed by general words then the Act will only apply to the items in the list.  R v Sedgley Inhabitants (1831)  
noscitur a sociis - A word is know by the company it keeps. Words must be read in context.   Inland Revenue Commissioners v Frere (1964)    
When interpreting a statute the court may make certain presumptions.  Unless expressly excluded the following presumptions may be applied to the words in a statue.
  • Mens rea is required for a criminal act to be committed  Sweet v Parsley (1970)
  • Statutes do not apply retrospectively   However see War Crimes Act 1991
  • The Queen is not bound by an Act of Parliament
  • A statute will not change the common law

For Literal Rule of Interpretation Read Here