Statutory Interpretation


The Literal Rule

  • Takes the everyday ordinary dictionary meaning of a word/phrase 
  • may lead to absurd results 
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Fisher V Bell

  • D displays flick knife in shop window contray to the offensive weapons Act says you cannot offer for sale of such weapon. 
  • Contract Law says that a shop display is not an offer for sale but an invitation to treat
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Whiteley V Chapell

  • Illegal impersonate anybody entitled to vote in an election 
  • D votes in the name of a deceased person
  • Interpreting literally, dead people cannot vote. 
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The Golden Rule

  • Extension of the Literal Rule 
  • Avoids Absurbd results
  • Two approaches: Narrow+Broad 
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Narrow Approach

  • Word or phrase has more than one meaning so Judges select meaning that avoids absurd result.
  • Allen (1872) 
  • llegal to remarry without the first marriage to be ended (divorced) (OAPA S.57)
  • D tries to marry niece of his first wife without being divorced. So 2nd marriage not void
  • Courts said "Shall Marry" is to go through with a marriage ceremony which Allen had done. 
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Broad Approach

  • Only one meaning of a word/phrase but to apply it would cause an absurd result so Judges modify the meaning to avoid absurdity.
  • Adler V George
  • D obstructs member of Armed forces in the vicinity of a prohibited area. 
  • D says he cannot be guilty as he is in the prohibited area and not the vicinity.
  • Under the Literal rule D would be found Not Guilty.
  • Under the Golden rule Judges interpreted in the vicinity to include the prohibited area. D IS FOUND GUILTY
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The Mischief Rule

  • Looks at the gap in the law that parliament felt it necessary to fill by passing an Act/Statute. 
  • Heydons case (1584) sets out four things to consider:

1- What was the common law before the Act was passed?

2- What was the defect/mischief that the law did not provide a remedy for?

3- What remedy does the Act attempt to provide?

4- What was the true reason for the remedy? 

Smith V Hughes:

  • Ilegal to solicit in a public place (Street offences Act)
  • D solicits from a private property window 
  • Parliament intended to stop soliciting all together by passing the Act, therefore it did not matter where the soliciting took place. 
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The Purposive Approach

  • Focuses on what Parliament intended when passing the new law
  • looks at the Act as a whole piece of legislation 
  • consistent with EU Law 
  • Jones V Tower Boot
  • Court had decided whether the verbal racial abuse of an employee was the employers responsibility (if it fell within "course of the employer" S.32 Race Relations Act) 
  • The Act was to eliminate racial discrimination in the work place, so EMPLOYER IS FOUND LIABLE 
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Intrinsic Aids

  • Everything found inside the Act 
  • Long/Short Title (Checking the Abortion Act to determin who could legally conduct Abortions)
  • Preamble- A statement explaining the purpose of the Act
  • Scheduels- referred to make sense of main text
  • Interpretation sections- explaning key words 
  • Punctuation- have an effect on how the meaning of words can be interpreted. 
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Extrinsic Aids

  • Everything found outside an Act 
  • Dictionaires- Vaughn V Vaughn- check the definition of the word molest 
  • Previous Acts- maybe referred to (Wheatley)- Explosive Substances Act 
  • Interpretation Act- provides deifinitions of words often used in Acts (He is to include she)
  • Reports from Law commissons- Black Clawson- highlight what is wrong with the old law and suggest options. 
  • Text Books- referred to on guidance of meanings of word/phrase (Re Castioni)
  • Hansard- Recording of Parliament debates 
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Ejusdem Generis Rule

  • Where General words follow particular words when general words are the same type as particular words.
  • Powell V Kempton Park Race Course
  • D bets in an open air enclosure 
  • Illegal to bet in house, office and room or other place. 
  • House, office and Room are particular words & other place are general words so you presume other place to include four walls and a roof. 
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Expressio Rule

  • Expression of one thing implies the exlcusion of another. 
  • Inhabitants of Sedley
  • Rates could be charged on Land, Titles and Coal mines. This implies anyother mine (ie gold mine) could not be charged a rate. 
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  • Take the meaning of the words from the context in which it is written 
  • Muir V Keay 
  • To stay open late hours for entertainment purposes a lisence is needed 
  • D kept his cafe open at night for public without license 
  • Entertainment did not necesseraly mean music or theatre, it could include drinking coffee late at night 
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Advantages/Disadvantages of Literal Rule


  • Democratic- Leaves Law making to Parliament (The elected body)
  • Respects Parliament Sovereingty- Parliament is the highest Law maker in the Land 


  • Produces absurd results- Whiteley V Chapell 
  • Produces unjust results- London& NE Railway V Berriman 
  • Does not always give affect to Parliaments intentions 
  • Might be more than one dictionary meaning 
  • presumes draftsmen always do their job properly
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Advantages/Disadvantages of Golden Rule


  • Prevents absurd/unjust outcomes (Re Sigworth) 
  • More likely to result in what Parliament intended compared to the Literal Rule 


  • No clear definition of what an absurd result it 
  • Michael Zander described it as a "feeable parachuet" Escaping the problems of the literal rule, though the golden rule is still limited 
  • Undemocratic- unelected judges can modify the law 
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Advantages/Disadvantages of mischief Rule


  • Avoids Absurd and unjust results 
  • preferred approach by the Law commissions- they have lots of knowledge and expertise in the field of law- said it was a "rather more satisfactory approach"
  • premotes flexibility- allows judges to decide on what parliament intended 


  • Too much power to unelected judges- undemocratic- judges interpret what Parliament thinks not what the law actually says
  • Out of date- Heydons case dates back to 1584- hard to incorporate law from then into a modern society. 
  • Not always easy to identify the mischief
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Advantages/Disadvantages of Purposive Approach


  • Consistent with Eu- brings the UK more into line with other European countries. 
  • More likely to give affect to Parliaments intentions- 
  • Lord Denning prefers the approach and said: prefers it as it is not destructive analysis- meaning the purposive approach does not critise the law and its makers, but rather finds the intentions of that law and implies it. 


  • Too much power to unelected Judges- undemocratic- Judges are left to interpret what they think Parliament intended rather than what the law acutally says 
  •  Judges decisions can be based on public policy- this should be left to Parliament 
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