Statutory interpretation assignment

This problem question necessitates a discussion surrounding the area of statutory interpretation. To achieve consistency, judges and legal authorities have attempted to establish guiding principles of interpretation. Statute law, unlike case law, provides rules in the form of a single verbal formula. The words of a statute have a unique authority which words in judgments virtually never have. Statutory interpretation means assessing legislative intention based on the binding rules, on principles and on presumptions as to what Parliament had in mind and on linguistic construction. No argument must be overlooked when searching for all the relevant interpretative factors.

Judicial interpretation is unregulated by Parliament, however Parliament drafts Acts in such a way in order to reduce the amount of interpretation that is required. The reasoning behind this is that to have a high degree of judicial interpretation would compromise certainty and result in redrafting of laws by judges. This would in turn result in more complex legislation drafted to avoid judicial rewriting. The question arises as to how judges actually interpret legislation that comes before them and the traditional answer was that in determining the actual meaning of legislation, they make use of the three primary rules of statutory interpretation and a variety of other secondary aids to construction. The three rules of statutory interpretation are (a) the literal rule, (b) the golden rule and (c) the mischief rule. It must be emphasized that these are not actual rules and that they maybe at best described as post hoc justifications for decisions which are taken in line with judicial preference.

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The literal rule is the primary rule which takes precedence over the others. Under this rule the judge is asked to consider what the legislation actually says rather than considering what it might mean. Words and phrases should be construed by the courts in their ordinary sense and the ordinary rules of grammar and punctuation should be applied. In order to achieve this it is up to the judge to give words in legislation their literal meaning even if, the effect of this is to produce what might be considered as an otherwise unjust or desirable outcome. An example of this was demonstrated in R v Judge of the City of London Court where Lord Esher stated ‘If the words of an Act are clear, then you must follow them, even though they lead to a manifest absurdity.

An example from the area of contract law is Fisher v Bell he had a flick knife on his shop’s window and was found a guilty with offering for sale. According to the low it was decided at the placing of an article in a window did not equal to offering. In other words, the Literal Rule considers what the legislation says rather than what it means. In Whitley v. Chappell it was illegal to impersonate any person entitled to vote. A dead person who was not entitled to vote, so therefore was acquitted. Clear words must be applied – even if the result is absurd per Lord Edmund-Davies in Stock, i.e. the judges only role is in determining what unclear words mean. It will always be used unless an absurdity would result. The problem with the literal rule is that although it sounds simple, there is not always a prescribed meaning for words – the ordinary meaning may not be so ordinary at all – problems finding the natural meaning of words frequently occur.

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The golden rule is used when the application of the literal rule will result in what appears to the court to be an obvious absurd result. The rule was closely defined by Lord Wensleydale in Grey v Pearson who stated,

“The grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to unless that would lead to some absurdity or some repugnance or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument in which case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified so as to avoid the absurdity and inconsistency, but no farther.”

The rule was used in the case of Adler v George to avoid an absurd result. The court applied the golden rule to extend the literal wording of the statute to cover the action committed by the defendant. If the literal rule had been applied, it would have produced absurdity, as someone protesting near the base would be committing an offence whilst someone protesting in it would not. The golden rule provides no clear means to test the existence or extent of an absurdity. It seems to depend on the result of each individual case. Whilst the golden rule has the advantage of avoiding absurdities, it therefore has the disadvantage that no test exists to determine what an absurdity is.

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