Literal rule

  • Created by: Raisha
  • Created on: 12-11-12 15:05

The Judiciary's role is to apply laws made by parliament. However this is not always a straightforward task. Poor drafting of bills may lead to ambiguity which the court needs to resolve.

Traditionally, the courts have relied on three main approaches to interpret statutes: the literal rule, golden and mischief rule.

A court may follow any approaches and will not necessary explain which it is using or why.


The literal rule says the intention of parliament is best found in the natural meaning of the word used. In R v Judge of the city of London 1892, Lord Esher stated words should be given their ordinary, grammatical meaning, even if this produces an absurd outcome.

An example of the literal rule in operation is found in the case of Fisher v Bell 1960. A shop keeper was charged under the Restriction of Offensive Act 1959 with offering for sale a prohibited knife. He was acquitted as under contract law the display of an item did not constitute an offer of sale but an invitation to treat, even though the Act had


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