Statutory Interpretation


Statutory Interpretation
Revision Notes

Statutory Interpretation

Definition- How a judge interprets the words written in a statute. Statutory interpretation is carried out by judges.

When statutes are written they go through the passage of a bill (e.g white paper and green paper) and they then go through the parliamentary process. In the parliamentary process there is opportunity for problems to arise that haven’t been picked up during the pre-legislative stage. If the problems come to light once the law has been made then it becomes the role of the court (more specifically the judge) to fix these issues. The judge has to decide what the original intention of the statute was and what the words in the statute meant.

The court cannot change the act but they try to put the best answer to the issue across by declaring what parliament meant in the original statute. If the court feels that the act conflicts the EU law then they can issue a declaration under section 24 of the human rights act which indicates to parliament they need to change the act.

The no vehicles in the park act. This (imaginary) act is not adequate as it is not made clear what is meant by a vehicle. Does the restriction stop at cars and Lorries or does it stretch to bicycles and push chairs. This act would need to be interpreted by a judge.

Why is there a lack of clarity in an act of parliament?
Development in society e.g Abortion Act 1967 which allowed for registered medical practitioner to carry out abortions. However in the 1980’s midwives had been trained to do some of the procedures instead of doctors. The court decided in the Royal College of Nursing vs DHHS 1991 and that the midwives were authorised to carry out the procedures under the act of parliament as the act ‘did not intend to criminalise the midwives’.

Drafting errors can occur which are typing errors and missing crucial words e.g shall instead of shall not or on instead of no.

Brood or ambiguous terms are also an issue as their meaning can be misconstrued for example the term gay is both happy and homosexual.

Changes in language are a reason that there is a lack of clarity in old laws. As words change they gain new meaning which can outdate old law.

The four rules
The literal rule- In the literal rule the courts give the words their plain an ordinary meaning, even if it would lead to a manifest of absurdity. The previous definition comes from Lord Escher in R vs city of London Judge. Older and more traditional judges mostly use the literal rule regardless of the outcome. This is because judges have no care for the bigger picture. The literal rule is the least effective as it is mindless and leads to absurdity.

Whitley v Chapel 1968 was the case where it was an offence to impersonate who is entitled to vote. The defendant


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