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Statutory Interpretation

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Statutory Interpretation

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STATUTORY INTERPRETATION

TOPICS:

Preliminaries
Rules and approaches
Aids to interpretation
Impact of EU and HRA

PRELIMINARIES

Statutory interpretation is the way by which the parts of a statute are interpreted in order to understand what Parliament might have intended by passing that particular statute.

Statutes are not user friendly. They are written in technical form and not too easy to understand (ambiguity). The words used in statues may have different meanings which indicate different results. Moreover, the literal meaning of statutes may not be capable of dealing with every circumstance (London & North Eastern Railway Co v Berriman). This is why statutory interpretation is necessary.

RULES AND APPROACHES

The basic constraint or norm involved in interpretation is that, judges cannot interpret statues in a way which fail to reflect the intention of Parliament; they ought to give effect to the intention of Parliament. Tindall CJ in Sussex Peerage Case (1844) said, “The only rule for the construction of Acts of Parliament is that they should be construed according to the intent for the Parliament which passed the Act.”

But this single rule gave birth to several distinct rules. It is not always possible to catch the intention of Parliament following a single procedure. This is why several rules of interpreting statues have emerged. These are discussed below:

The literal rule:
Literal rule states that the words used in a statute must be given their plain, ordinary or literal meaning (Whiteley v Chappell). This is the simplest rule to follow and best way to reflect Parliament’s intention in general. But, sometimes the structure of language may render the meaning obscure (ambiguity). Sometimes Parliament’s intention may not be well reflected through the language of a statute. Even, in some cases draftsmen may make mistakes. Moreover, absurdity may result from a literal interpretation of statutes, i.e. absurdity for inconsistencies...