Statutory Intepretation

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  • Topic: Statutory interpretation, Golden rule, Plain meaning rule
  • Pages : 3 (985 words )
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  • Published : April 4, 2008
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“We do not sit here to pull the language of Parliament to pieces and make nonsense of it… We sit here to find out the intention of Parliament and of ministers and carry it out, and we do this by filling in the gaps and making sense of the enactment than by opening it up to destructive analysis.” (Lord Denning, Seaford Court Estates, Ltd. v. Asher [1949] 2 K.B. 481 at 499)

Critically discuss this statement in the light of the existing approaches of statutory interpretation. Do you agree with the statement?

Statutes would be interpreted frequently by courts due to the imperfection of language, ambiguity in legal terms, omissions, mistakes, etc. Courts would try to construe and interpret the laws so as to “best ensure the attainment of the objective of the ordinance according to its true intent, meaning and spirit” (Section 19 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinances).

The quoted statement by Lord Denning suggests that, when interpreting statutes, judges would have to read the entire content of statutes as a whole and ascertain the intention of the of Parliament, rather than dividing different sections of laws and look into them separately, or destructively, words by words.

There are 4 approaches to interpret laws, namely the liberal rule, golden rule, mischief rule and purposive approach.

The literal rule means that judges would just look at the plain, ordinary and natural meaning of the words written in the statutes. According to Lord Diplock in Duport Steel v Sirs (1980), “where the meaning of the statutory words is plain and unambiguous it is not for the judges to invent fancied ambiguities as an excuse for failing to give effect to its plain meaning”. Judges would look for the words’ primary or most obvious meaning, not any general or secondary meaning, even though that may lead to a manifest absurdity.

In the light of this approach, Lord Denning’s statement is wrong. What the literal rule suggests is indeed “pulling the...
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