Statutory Interpretation

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  • Topic: Statutory interpretation, Plain meaning rule, Golden rule
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  • Published : March 26, 2012
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STATUTORY INTERPRETATION

What is the aim and why is it necessary?
Statutory Interpretation is there to help judges with general words Parliament has passed, as some words can have different meanings. * 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be errors or omissions when the statute is drafted * New developments in society can make the words used in a statute out of date and they may no longer cover the current situation rule courts will give words their plain meaning, even if the result is not very sensible. * Words are an imperfect means of communication

Literal Rule
* Under this rule words are given plain and ordinary meaning. * The rule developed in the early 19th century and has been the main rule applied ever since then. * It has been used in many cases even though the result has made nonsense of the law. * This is illustrated in Whiteley v Chapell (1868); where the defendant was changed under a section which made it an offence to impersonate ‘any personnel entitled to vote’. The defendant pretended to be a person whose name was on the voters’ list but had died. * The court held that the defendant was not guilty since a dead person is not, in literal meaning of the words; ‘entitled to vote’. * Other cases include Cheeseman and Fisher v Bell

Golden Rule
* Provides that if in exceptional circumstances the literal rule produces a wholly unjust result, the meaning of words may be altered to avoid that result. This rule has been used in two sorts of cases: * * 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) Where the words of statutes are ambiguous and it is very hard to see which meaning is appropriate. * * The Wider Application : This is used to avoid a repugnant result Where words have only one meaning but to give them that meaning would be wholly unacceptable.Re Sigsworth (1935)

Mischief Rule
This rule was first set out in Heydon’s Case (1584). It gives judges considerably more discretion than the other two rules. In its modern form the rule has 4 stages: 1. What was the common law before the making on the act?

2. What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide? 3. What was the remedy the parliament hath resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the commonwealth? 4. The true reason of the remedy. Then the office of all the judges is always to make such construction as shall suppress the mischief and advance the remedy. The role of the judges is then to give words a construction that would deal with the problem and implement the remedy. Case: Smith v Hughes (1960) to interdict section (h) of the Street Offences Act 1959.

Purposive Rule
* This is more concerned with the spirit and the intended purpose of legislation than the precise meaning of the language used in legislation, and allows judges to go further than the mischief rule. * The champion of this approach, Lord Deaning stated in the case of Magor and St Mellons v Newport Corporation (1950), “We sit here to find out the intention of Parliament and carry it out. We do this by filling the gaps and making sense of the Act”. Cases: R v Registration Genera, ex parte Smith (1990); R (Quintavalle) v Secretary of State (2003).

The advantage and disadvantages of the purposive approach
1. An advantage of the purposive approach is that it leads to justice in individual cases. * It is a broad approach which allows the law to cover more situations than applying words literally. This means it can fill in the gaps in the law. 2. The purposive approach is particularly useful where there is new technology which was unknown when the law was enacted. * This is demonstrated by R (Quintavalle) V Secretary of State (2003), the House of Lords...
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