Statutory Interpretation

How can a judge be helped when trying to understand an act they have to apply?

  • Created by: Em
  • Created on: 16-10-11 11:06



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What is STATUTORY INTERPRETATION? And what provisi

Rules of Interpretation - Four Rules judges can choose between when attempting to interpret a statute, this usually comes down to their personal opinions and morals.

Rules of Language - These are actual RULES as opposed to approaches and retain their original Latin titles. Their are three of these rules.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Aids - These are aids that a judge can access to assist them, some are found within the act itself the others are items outside of the act that a judge may refer to.

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Name the four rules of interpretation...

The four rules of interpretation are;

1) The Literal Rule - When the Judge takes the ordinary grammatical meaning. 

2) The Golden Rule - When a Judge starts with the literal meaning and then can use a more appropriate meaning if necessary.

3) The Mischief Rule - When a Judge focuses on why the Act was introduced.

4) The Modern Purposive Approach - Looks at the literal meaning and then puts it in the context of the act.

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The Literal Rule....What is it???

The Literal Rule is when a Judge looks purely at what the original grammatical meaning of the words are and makes no changes.

However this can cause problem as it can lead to absurd results...

A court case example is that of Whitely v. Chappell 1868

In this case parliament had made it an offence it to impersonate 'any person entitled to a vote' at an election. The defendant was not guilty as they had been impersonating a dead person, and the Judge on the case had interpreted the act LITERALLY, therefore the dead person was NOT entitled to a vote. Hence the defendant was NOT GUILTY.

But looking at this case, it wasn't what parliament intended the act to be for meaning this was an ABSURD result.

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The Golden Rule...What is it???

The Golden Rule is when a Judge starts with the literal meaning of a word or sentence and if it gives an ABSURD result, the Judge may then use a more appropriate meaning.This means the Judge is allowed to modify the possible meaning of the individual word but not actually change the words used. JUDGES USE THIS RULE TO AVOID ABSURDITY BUT NO FURTHER.

A Court case example of where this rule has been used is;               Maddox v. Storer 1963 - Parliament had written an act which said, 'a vehicle which is adapted to having 11 passengers or more is not permitted to travel over 30mph' In this case the vehicle was manufactured originally to have 11 seats not 'ADAPTED'. However the Judge modified the word 'adapted' to mean 'SUITABLE' which therefore mean this vehicle could NOT travel over 30mph.

This rule leaves it to the judges discretion to decide what a ABSURD result is and to secondly decide upon a more appropriate meaning.

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And the Mischief Rule???

The Mischief Rule dates back to the 16th century and focuses less on the words used and more on why the act was introduced in the first place.      Judges that prefer to use the mischief rule follow a set of criteria from Heydon's Case 1584;

1) Look at what the law was before the Act was introduced.
2) Find out what was wrong with that law
3) Identify the actual mischief that the new act intended to improve.
4) Apply that to your case.

Very LIBERAL rule, less popular in Victorian times.

A court case which uses this rule is Smith v. Hughes 1960;                     In this case a prostitute was tapping on her bedroom window attracting customers, Parliament had made a law that stopped women standing on the street and soliciting. However the Judge knew that parliament intended to stop soliciting all together so found this defendant GUILTY.

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Finally...The Modern Puporsive Approach?

The Modern Purposive Approach is the approach used in the EU, firstly as an institution itself and then so do many of its member states. This approach is similar to the mischief rule also.
It begins by looking at the literally meaning of the words used, the Judge is then expected to try and put them into the context of the whole document. This should lead to the Judge finding out what the overall purpose of the ac was and how it should be applied.

A court case which uses this is R v. Registrar General ex parte Smith 1990
(ex parte; means on behalf of someone) This case was presented because once you reach 18 you are entitled to receive information about your natural birth parents. Smith, lived in Broadmoore (Psychiatric Hospital - Murdered twice) This act wanted the BEST for adopted children, but this case was ruled ineligible as he could be a potential threat to his birth parents and this is NOT what parliament created this act for.

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Rules of Language?

The Three Rules of Language are and their translations;

1) Ejusdem Generis    -  'Of the same kind' 

2) Expresso unius est exclusio alterius - 'the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another'

3) Noscitur a Sociis - 'It is known by the company it keeps'

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Ejusdem Generis...

Literal Translation: Of The Same Kind.

When a law lists specific classes of persons or things and then refers to them in general...then the general only applies to the same kind of persons or things.

e.g. Cats, Dogs, and other animals... Cats and Dogs are domestic animals meaning that other animals will only refer to other DOMESTIC animals, like rabbits but not tigers.

A Law case that has used this rule is
Powell v. Kempton Park Racecourse 1899; the list in the act said you cannot reserve areas for betting business to hold stalls at events in offices, home rooms, halls or other areas. This Racecourse held areas outside with open air space, they were found NOT GUILTY as this is not in the same category.

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Expresso Unius Est Exclusio Alterius...

Literal translation; the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another

This rule signifies the idea that certain lists in legislation can cause particular persons or things to be excluded when they may be relevant.

e.g. If a law refers to stab, cut and jab this interprets harming someone, however it excludes shooting, strangling and use of other weapons.


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Noscitur a Sociis...

Literal Translation: It is known by the company it keeps

This is a legal maxim that means if a word it is unclear it is to be determined by the context of the words or phrases which surround it. 

As put by UK Judge J. Stamp "Sentences are not mere collections of words to be taken out of a sentences and defined separately by reference to the dictionary or decided cases, and then put back in" This basically means the words are formed together as a sentence to create their meaning.

A court case Foster v. Diphwys Casson 1887;
This case involved a statute that stated explosives taken into a mine must be in a 'case or canister'. In this case the man had taken the explosive in a cloth bag, the act had said 'case or canister' as it intended something as strong as those, in order to be protective against the explosive. The defendant was found GUILTY as the cloth bag was far too WEAK.

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Aids to Interpretation... Intrinsic...

As well as the rules set, judges can also access various different aids to help assist in their interpretation of an act.

Intrinsic Aids - These are found within the Act itself. For Example:

- Long/Short Title (All acts have both a long and a short title)

- Interpretation Section (A section somewhere in the act to help the Judge understand it)

- Preamble (This is a short overview at the beginning which explains what the act is all about)

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Aids to Interpretation...Extrinsic...

Extrinsic Aids - These are found outside of the act, and are items a Judge can refer to. For Example:

- Dictionary

- Other Acts or International Treaties

- Past Cases

- The Interpretation Act 1978

- Official reports - (Law commission/Royal Commission and also the original white and green papers)

- Hansard (But only been allowed since 1993) Word for word report published daily of everything that goes on in parliament.

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These rules are put forward to help judges interpret acts that may have been passed centuries ago. It is important that judges have guide lines to help them apply acts effectively. That's

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