1 Approaches to Statutory Interpretation

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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Statutory Interpretation
Approaches to statutory interpretation
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Objectives
• Define what is meant by statutory interpretation
• Explain four different approaches to statutory
interpretation
• Apply examples that are relevant to each
approach to statutory interpretation
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Key Terms
• Statutory interpretation
• The literal rule
• The golden rule
• The mischief rule
• The purposive approach
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
What is Statutory Interpretation?
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Legislation usually drafted by Parliamentary counsel
Parliament’s role is to create legislation
Judge’s role is to apply it
No matter how hard Parliamentary counsel work to
make clear always some issues with definition
• Sometimes deliberately broad to allow flexibility
• This often means that judges have to interpret the
Acts
• 75% of cases heard by Lords (now Supreme Court)
are Statutory Interpretation
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
What is Statutory Interpretation?
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Judges are aided by materials inside and outside the Act
Also by rules and presumptions
These created by Judges themselves
Not really rules only alternative ways a judge can
interpret the Act
• Judges make certain presumptions when interpreting an
act
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Acts of Parliament are not retrospective
The Crown is not bound
There is no change in common law unless the Act specifically says so
Mens Rea is required in all criminal cases
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
The Rules of Interpretation
• Also known as the cannons of construction
• Once Parliament has passed an Act, it then falls
to the courts to apply the statute in a particular
case.
• This can lead to difficulties where:
– facts of the case may not have been envisaged by
Parliament
– or where there exist drafting errors or ambiguity in the
statute
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
The Rules of Interpretation
• Referred to as 'rules'
• Not strictly binding
• Some commentators argue they are used to
justify a decision rather than assisting the
decision making process.
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Literal Rule
Golden Rule
Mischief Rule
Purposive Approach
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Literal Rule
• The literal rule of statutory interpretation should be
the first rule applied by judges.
• Requires the judge to give the words of the statute
their natural, ordinary or dictionary meaning
• Should be applied without the judge seeking to put a
gloss on the words or seek to make sense of the
statute.
• This is the case even if it appears to be contrary to
rules of Parliament
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Literal Rule
• Lord Reid in Pinner v Everett [1969]:
– ‘In determining the meaning of any words or phrase in
a statute, the first question to ask is always what is
the natural and ordinary meaning of that word or
phrase in its context in the statute.’
• This may lead to unexpected results that were
not the intention of Parliament.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
R v Harris (1836) 7 C & P 446
The defendant bit off his victim's nose.
Principle – The statute made it an offence 'to stab cut or wound' the court held that
under the literal rule the act of biting did not come within the meaning of stab cut or
wound as these words implied an instrument had to be used. Therefore the
defendant's conviction was quashed.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Whitely v Chappel (1868) LR 4 QB 147
A statute made it an offence 'to impersonate any person entitled to vote.' The
defendant used the vote of a dead man. The statute relating to voting rights required a
person to be living in order to be entitled to vote.
Principle – The literal rule was applied and the defendant was thus acquitted.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Fisher v Bell [1961] 1 QB 394
The defendant had a flick knife displayed in his shop window with a price tag on it.
Statute (The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959) made it a criminal offence to
’sell or offer for sale' such flick knives.
Principle – The court applied the literal rule of statutory interpretation. His conviction
was quashed as in contract law, goods on display in shops are not 'offers' in the
technical sense but an invitation to treat. The court found D not guilty even though it
was obviously Parliament’s intention to stop the sale of these types of weapons.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Golden Rule
• May be applied where an application of
the literal rule would lead to an absurdity.
• The courts may then apply a secondary
meaning. (River Wear Commissioners v
Adamson) (1876-77) L.R. 2 App Cas 743.
• This will avoid an absurd result
• Two approaches
– Narrow approach
– Broad approach
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Golden Rule – Narrow Approach
• Applied when the word or phrase is capable of
more than one literal meaning.
• This allows the judge to apply the meaning that
avoids an absurdity.
• R v Allen (1872) gives a perfect example.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
R v Allen (1872) LR 1 CCR 367
The defendant was charged with the offence of bigamy under s.57 of the Offences
Against the Person Act 1861. The statute states 'whosoever being married shall marry
any other person during the lifetime of the former husband or wife is guilty of an
offence'. Under a literal interpretation of this section the offence would be impossible
to commit since civil law will not recognise a second, any attempt to marry in such
circumstances would not be recognised as a valid marriage.
Principle – The court applied the golden rule and held that the word 'marry' should be
interpreted as 'to go through a marriage ceremony'. The defendant's conviction was
upheld.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Golden Rule – Broad Approach
• Applied when there is only one literal meaning
but applying it would cause an absurdity
• Under Broad approach court will modify the
meaning to avoid absurdity.
• Adler v George (1964) is the example here
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Adler v George [1964] 2 QB 7
Under the Official Secrets Act 1920 it was an offence to obstruct a member of the
armed forces 'in the vicinity' of a prohibited palace. The defendant was actually in the
prohibited place, rather than 'in the vicinity' of it, at the time of obstruction.
Principle – The court applied the golden rule. It would be absurd for a person to be
liable if they were near to a prohibited place and not if they were actually in it. His
conviction was therefore upheld.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Re Sigsworth [1935] 1 Ch 98
A son murdered his mother. She had not made a will. Under the statute setting the law
on intestacy he was her sole issue and stood to inherit her entire estate.
Principle – The court applied the Golden rule holding that an application of the literal
rule would lead to a repugnant result. He was thus entitled to nothing.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Golden Rule
• Provides an opportunity for judicial law making
• Narrow approach allows them to choose
between several meanings
• Broad approach allows modification of the
meaning of the words used by Parliament.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Mischief Rule
• Oldest of the rules.
• Established in Heydon’s Case[1584]
• In Re Sussex Peerage, it was held that the
mischief rule should only be applied where there
is ambiguity in the statute.
• Under the mischief rule the court's role is to
suppress the mischief the Act is aimed at and
advance the remedy.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Mischief Rule
• Court looks at gap in law that Parliament felt
necessary to close.
• Then interprets the Act to fill that gap and
remedy the ‘mischief’ Parliament had been
aiming to remedy.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Heydon's Case [1584] EWHC Exch J36
In an action determining the validity of a lease the court formulated the mischief rule.
Principle –
1. What was the common law before making the Act?
2. What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide?
3. What was the remedy Parliament passed to cure the mischief?
4. What was the true reason for the remedy?
The role of the judge is to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Mischief Rule
• Where an Act has been passed to remedy a
weakness or defect in the law, the interpretation
that will correct the weakness or defect is the
one that should be taken.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Smith v Hughes [1960] 1 WLR 830
The defendants were prostitutes who had been charged under the Street Offences Act
1959 which made it an offence to solicit in a public place. The prostitutes were
soliciting from private premises in windows or on balconies so could be seen by the
public.
Principle – The court applied the mischief rule holding that the activities of the
defendants were within the mischief the Act was aimed at even though under a literal
interpretation they would be in a private place.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Mischief Rule
• Where an Act has been passed to remedy a
weakness or defect in the law, the interpretation
that will correct the weakness or defect is the
one that should be taken.
• Provides scope for judicial law making as it
allows judges to decide what they think
Parliament intended to put right in the previous
law.
• The judges do not focus on the words as stated
by Parliament.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Purposive Approach
• Mischief Rule – looks back at common law before
Act was passed to find gap in law that Parliament
trying to fill
• Purposive approach focuses on what Parliament
intended.
• Modern version of Mischief Rule
• Distinction between the two a minor technicality
• In Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart (1993) Lord
Browne-Wilkinson: "the purposive approach to
construction now adopted by the courts in order to
give effect to the true intentions of the legislature".
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart (1993) 1 All ER 42
This case concerned the tax liability of teachers at a public school where one of the
perks of the job was that their sons could be educated at one fifth of the usual
cost. This perk was a taxable benefit under s.61(1) of the Finance Act 1976 as it was
a cash equivalent. The question for the House of Lords was how much tax should be
levied.
Principle – Responses made by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury during the
Committee stage of the bill to queries regarding concessions enjoyed by railway men
made it clear that tax should be levied at the marginal cost incurred by the employer.
Adopting this interpretation, tax should be assessed on the basis of the marginal cost
to the employer, not on the average cost of providing education for the employees'
sons and the public.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Purposive Approach
• Increasingly used by UK Courts since UK joined
European Union
• EU law drafted in broad terms
• Lord Denning commenting on EU law in Bulmer
Ltd v J Bollinger SA (1974): “All the way through
the Treaty there are gaps and lacunae. These
have to be filled in by the judges, or by
regulations or directives. It is the European way.”
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Purposive Approach
• Judges in UK employ the Purposive Approach
when dealing with European Law
• Human Rights Act 1998 is another influence
acting on Judges – Legislation must conform to
HRA
• Considerable shift to Purposive Approach
• In line with Law Commission Report on
Interpretation of Statutes 1969
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart (1993) 1 All ER 42
The Court of Appeal had to decide whether the physical and verbal abuse of a young
black worker by his workmates fell within ‘the course of employment’ under s32 of the
Race Relations Act 1976. The employer had argued that these actions fell outside the
course of the workmate’s employment, because such behavior was not part of their
job. The Employment Appeal Tribunal could not therefore be held responsible to the
young black worker for his workmate’s behaviour.
Principle – This decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal using the purposive
approach to interpret s32. Parliament’s intention when enacting the Race Relations
Act was to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and this would not be achieved by
applying a narrow construction to the wording.
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Purposive Approach
• Provides scope for judicial law making
• Judge is allowed to decide what he/she thinks
Parliament intended the At to say not what the
Act actually says
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Statutory Interpretation
Approaches
Objectives
• Define what is meant by statutory interpretation
• Explain four different approaches to statutory
interpretation
• Apply examples that are relevant to each
approach to statutory interpretation
© The Law Bank
32
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