Statutory Interpretation

  • Created by: Iwarner
  • Created on: 22-11-15 19:37

Statutory interpretation

The need for statutory interpretation:

  • A broad term- words could cover a range of possibilities, could lead to problems on how wide they should go, dangerous dogs act 1991 ‘type’.

  • Ambiguity- word could have two or more meanings, not clear which one should be used.

  • A drafting error- within the bill that hasn’t been noticed by parliament, likely to occur when a bill has been amended several times.

  • New developments- new technology means an act may not be apparent anymore/ cover every day situations, royal college of nursing v DHSS (1981), medical science and methods have changed since Abortion act 1967.

  • Changes in the use of language- meaning of a word can change over the years, Cheeseman v DPP (1990) ‘passenger’.

Literal approach 

Under this rule, the courts will give the word their plain and ordinary meaning, even if the result is not sensible. Lord Esher- “the court has nothing to do with the question whether the legislature has committed absurdity”.

Whiteley v Chappell- charged under the section which made it an offence to impersonate, ‘any person entitled to vote’, person’s name used on the voters list was dead, under the literal meaning of ‘entitled’ he was found not guilty.

Cheeseman v DPP- man found masturbating in public toilets was took by police, literal meaning of ‘passenger’ meant he was not guilty as police were stationed there and not passing by, dictionary definition of when the act was made.


  • Rule follows exactly what parliament says, stays democratic, implement the act in the courts how it was intended/ written.

  • Stops unelected judges from making law, upholds separation of powers/ parliamentary supremacy, fair verdict, judges not given too much power.

  • Easier for people to know what the law is and how to apply it, consulting clients, makes law certain.


  • This rule assumes every act is written perfectly, not possible to word an act that convers every situation, using act how it’s intended?

  • Words can have more than one literal meaning (dictionaries have different meanings), dangerous dogs act 1991 ‘type’.

  • Following the exact meanings can lead to absurd results.


      Golden rule

Modification of the literal rule, starts by looking at the literal meaning, but avoiding an interpretation that can lead to an absurd result, there are two types of views upon how the rule should be applied:

Narrow approach- the court may choose between the possible meanings of a word of phrase, if there is only one meaning that that must be taken. Lord Reid- “If they are capable of more than one meaning, than you can choose between those meanings, but beyond this you cannot go”. 

R v Allen (1872) - charged for bigamy as he was married to more than one person. Defendant thought wife was dead and re-married. Court went for narrow approach legal definition, not ceremony.

Broad approach- where the words have a clear meaning, but the meaning could lead to a repugnant situation (result that shouldn’t be allowed), therefore by


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