Law - Statutory Interpretation
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What is the role of the courts?
-To decide what Parliament meant by the words used in a statute.
-To interpret an Act and apply it to a case before them where the parties are arguing over its meaning.
(E.g. This happens in criminal cases when the defendant claims that his or her behaviour did not amount to the crime as defined by the statute in question.
What are the four methods used to interpret statutes?
- 1) The Literal Rule
- 2) The Golden Rule
- 3) The Mischief Rule
- 4) The Purposive Approach
Are the methods different? How?
Yes, they are because using some methods may lead to one outcome where using another method could lead to an entirely different outcome.
What is the Literal Rule?
This rule is where Judges give statutes their plain ordinary dictionary meaning even if it leads to an absurd outcome. However, where words have a technical legal meaning, that meaning is then used.
What are the names of the cases that are linked to the Literal Rule?
- WHITELY V CHAPPELL (1868)
- FISHER V BELL (1960)
What happened in the WHITELY V CHAPELL (1868) case?
-Defendant was charged under a statute which made it an offence to impersonate any person 'entitled to vote'.
-The defendant had pretended to be a person whose name was on the voters' list, but the voter who they were pretending to be had died.
-The court decided that the defendant was not guilty because since a dead person is not, in the literal sense, 'entitled to vote'.
What happened in the FISHER V BELL (1960) case?
-The defendant was a shopkeeper who had displayed a flick knife marked in his shop window with a price.
-He was charged under an Act for making an 'offer for sale' for the flick knife (as selling weapons is illegal).
-There is a technical legal meaning of 'offer for sale' from contract law under which putting an article in a shop window is not an offer to sell.
-The court used the literal rule and applied the technical legal meaning of 'offer for sale' from contract law.
-This meant the defendant was not guilty for making an 'offer for sale' as displaying items in a window is an 'invitation to treat'.
Give three advantages of the Literal Rule.
1) It is the best way to interpret Parliament's intention as you are following exactly what Parliament said in the Statute.
2) It encourages certainty in the law, as judges are not allowed to alter the meanings of words in an Act to suit themselves. The predictable result makes it easier for people to know what the law is and how judges will apply it.
3) Some judges argue that they are doing Parliament a favour by drawing faulty legislation and loopholes to their attention - as in FISHER V BELL, where Parliament had to amend the statute shortly after the case.
Give three disadvantages of the Literal Rule.
1) The Literal Rule can lead to absurdity which is unlikely to have been Parliament's intention. It would not have been Parliament's intention to let someone get away with an extra vote as happened in WHITELY V CHAPPELL. Where the rule does lead to absurdity as in FISHER V BELL, Parliament is then forced to pass another Act to correct the problem.
2) The Literal Rule assumes that every Act is perfectly drafted but this cannot always be the case as the meanings of words can change over time. Also, it is not possible to word an Act to cover every situation that Parliament intends to be covered.
3) The Literal Rule is favoured by those who are reluctant to use external aids (e.g. Hansard). But, these could have been used to clear up any uncertainty over the interpretation of the Act.
What is the Golden Rule?
The golden rule is a modification to The Literal Rule.
It may be used if the judge believes that using the literal rule would lead to an absurd outcome.
What are the names of the cases that are linked to the Golden Rule?
ALDER V GEORGE (1964) - narrow way
RE SIGSWORTH (1935) - wider way
What happened in the ALDER V GEORGE (1964) case? This case was used in a narrower way.
-Defendant was caught inside an RAF base staging a protest.
-He was accused under the statute of obstructing a member of the armed forces 'in the vicinity' of the base.
-His defence was that he was not 'in the vicinity' of the base but was 'inside' the RAF base
-The word vicinity means 'near to'
-The court decided that 'in the vicinity of' could mean either 'near to' but could also mean 'near to and within'
-The court chose the second meaning 'near to and within' to secure a conviction.
What happened in the RE SIGSWORTH (1935) case? This case was used in a wider way.
-A son had murdered his mother
-The mother had not made a will
-Usually her estate would go to the next of kin (her son) according to the rules set out in a statute.
-The words in the statute were perfectly clear and there was no ambiguity in the words of the Act.
-But, it would not be in the public interest to let a murderer benefit from his crime.
-The literal rule should not apply, but using the golden rule in a wider way, the judges in the courts were able to modify the meanings of the words in the Act to prevent the son from inheriting the estate.
Give three advantages of the Golden Rule.
-Where there is a problem with the Literal Rule, the golden rule provides an 'escape route' - the judges can use it to prevent absurdity and injustice caused by the literal rule.
-The judges put into practice what Parliament really means. Parliament's intention would not have been to create an absurd situation. It would clearly have been unjust to allow this son in RE SIGSWORTH to benefit from his crime.
-Allows judges to choose the most sensible meaning where there is more than one meaning of a word in a statute.
Give three disadvantages of the Golden Rule.
-The main problem is deciding whether a literal interpretation would lead to an absurd case or not. Different judges may have different views. This can lead to uncertainty in the law. It is unpredictable when the Golden Rule is going to be used making it difficult for lawyers to advise their client on what to do.
-Unelected judges are beginning to make law. They are not confining themselves to words in the statute but are trying to work out Parliament's intention. The Golden Rule can be said to be very undemocratic.
-It is very limited in its use so it is only used on rare occasions.
What is the Mischief Rule?
-Method was laid down in Heydon's Case (1584)
Judges should consider four factors when interpreting a statute;
-What was the common law (case law) before a statute?
-What was the problem/mischief it was trying to remedy?
-What was the remedy proposed by Parliament?
-What was the true reason for that remedy?
The judges should then interpret the statute in order to put a stop to the mischief.
What are the names of the cases that are linked to the Mischief Rule?
-SMITH V HUGHES (1960)
-ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING V DHSS (1981)
What happened in the SMITH V HUGHES (1981) case?
-Mischief Rule was used to interpret the offence of a prostitute soliciting 'in a street or public place'.
- The court considered appeals by two women; one was attracting male customers from a balcony and the other had been at the window of a ground floor room.
-Rightly convinced by Magistrates because the mischief aimed at by the statue was to enable people to walk along the streets without being harassed by prostitutes.
-Thus, the statute was interpreted to stop this 'mischief'.
-It did not matter the women were not literally on the street, the could be seen from the street.
What happened in the ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING V DHSS (1981) case?
-A statute provided that lawful abortion could be carried out by a 'registered medical practitioner'.
-This clearly covered doctors, but what about nurses?
-Advances in medical science from the early 1970s meant that surgical abortions performed by doctors could be replaced with abortions using drugs by nurses, without a doctor being present.
-The majority of judges interpreted the relevant statute to stop the mischief of illegal abortions where no medical care was available and to allow nurses to carry out abortions in a hospital.
Give three advantages of the Mischief Rule.
-Helps avoid absurd and unjust outcomes to cases such as WHITELY V CHAPPELL. It recognises that to look only at the words of a statute is inadequate. Instead, the emphasis is on making sure the mischief in the law is remedied. This is more likely to produce a 'just' result in a case.
-The Mischief Rule attempts to follow the will of Parliament rather than the exact words written by Parliament.
-It promotes flexibility in the interpretation of legislation. The Mischief Rule enables judges to bring into consideration why the Act was passed when considering what meaning to give words. Judges can interpret Acts in the light of changing social, economic and technological circumstances.
Give three disadvantages of the Mischief Rule.
-Its use replies on being able to find what the defect in the common law Parliament was trying to remedy. Given the limited external aids that the judges can use to interpret a statute, this can be a very difficult task for the judges.
-This rule increases the law making power of the unelected judges. This happened in ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING V DHSS, where the judges hearing the appeal disagreed on the use of the Mischief Rule.
-The Mischief Rule dates back to HEYDON'S CASE in the 16th century when there were fewer Acts of Parliament and those that were passed would have been less complex and thus easier to work out Parliament's intentions. This makes the rule less suited to the quantity and complexity of modern legislation.
What is an external aid?
It is anything outside the Act that helps interpret it.
What is an intrinsic aid?
Anything that is found within the Act that help interpret it (e.g. some definitions of certain words can be found in Act to help understand what the Act means.)
What is common law/case law?
Law made by judges
What is Hansard?
A record of everything that is said in Parliament.
What is the Purposive Approach?
The purposive approach requires the court to work out the general purpose of Parliament in passing the Act and then interpret the Act to fulfil that purpose.
The courts look at the wording of the Act, but are also willing to look outside the Act for meaning (e.g. Hansard)
This approach allows the courts to read words into a statute where the are gaps.
It is the spirit (the purpose behind it) rather than the letter of the law (what is written in the Act) which is important.
The court may even look at the purpose of the statute even where the words used are clear.
What are the names of the cases that are linked with the Purposive Approach?
-COLTMAN V BIBBY TANKERS (1978)
-R V REGISTRAR-GENERAL, EX PARTE SMITH (1990)
What happened in the COLTMAN V BIBBY TANKERS (1978) case?
-A statute imposed liability on an employer for the death of an employee caused by defective equipment supplied by that employer.
-C died when a ship he was working on capsized because it had a defective hull
-The court had to decide whether a 'ship' was 'equipment'.
-The word 'equipment' was defined in the Act, however, it did not say whether a 'ship' was classed as equipment or not.
-The company was liable because the PURPOSE of the Act was to make the employer table for any harm caused by defects in anything that had been provided by an employer.
What happened in the R V REGISTRAR-GENERAL, EX PARTE SMITH (1990) case?
-The defendant was a violent murderer who had mental health issues.
-He found out he was adopted and wanted to find out the identity of his natural mother and father.
-An Act named the 'Adoption Act 1976' said that any adopted person had the right to find out their natural parents.
-The registrar-general refused to give the information.
-The court decided it would go against the general purpose of the statute to provide information to someone who might, at some stage, use it to cause harm.
Give three advantages of the Purposive Approach.
-Helps to avoid absurd and unjust outcomes to a case. It is more likely to respect and fulfil the general purpose of Parliament.
-Promotes flexibility in interpreting law and enables law to be kept up to date by judges filling in gaps within the law; as in the COLTMAN V BIBBY TANKERS case. It is useful where there is new technology which was unknown when the Act was passed.
-The Purposive Approach is particularly suited to the interpretation of European law and the HUMAN RIGHTS ACT 1998. These are written in very broad terms, with general principles set out and the judges having to interpret according to the 'spirit' rather than the 'letter' of the law.
Give three disadvantages of the Purposive Approach.
-It enables unelected judges to take over the function of Parliament in making new law, as the judges did in the SMITH V HUGHES case. Thus, it goes against the principles of the supremacy of Parliament and the separation of powers.
-Critic argue that it is impossible to discover the general purpose of Parliament in passing legislation; only the words of the statue can show what Parliament wanted. It is not for a judge to argue that 'Parliament said one thing but meant another'.
-Whilst it is suited to the interpretation of European law, it is less suited to the more precise and detailed structure of English legislation.
What are the rules of language?
-Rules of language are rules to aid interpreting certain formats of words. If the particular format is not used then the rule has no evidence.
What is the ejusdem generis rule?
-known as the 'general rule'
-Where a list of words in a statute are followed by general words, those general words are limited to the same kind of items as those in the list.
-there must be 2 specific words in a list before the general words for this rule to operate
What is the case name that is linked to the ejusdem generis (general rule)?
POWELL V KEMPTON PARK RACECOURSE
What happened in the POWELL V KEMPTON PARK RACECOURSE (1899) case?
-defendant was charged with keeping a 'house, office, room or other place for betting'.
-defendant had been operating betting outside a racecourse.
-court decided that the general words 'other place' had to refer to indoor places since all the words in the list were indoor places
-defendant was not guilty
What is the noscitur a sociis rule?
-known as the context rule
-words take on the meaning from other words around it
-involves looking at other words in the same section or at other section in the statute.
What is the name of the case that is linked to the noscitur sociis (context rule)?
BROMLEY LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL V GREATER LONDON COUNCIL (1982)
What happened in the BROMLEY LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL V GREATER LONDON COUNCIL case?
-Issue was whether GLC could operate a cheap fare scheme on their transport systems where the amounts being charged would mean that the company would run at a loss.
-The case revolved around the meaning of 'economic'
-The court looked at the whole statute an, in particular, at another section which imposed a duty to make up any shortfall as far as possible.
-They decided that 'economic' meant running on business lines - (making either a profit or breaking even)
-Ruled that the cheap fares policy was unlawful
What is the expressio unius exclusio alterius rule?
-knows as the specific rule
-the rule that the mention of one thing excludes others
-where there is a list of words which is not followed by general words the the statute only applies to the items in the list.
Name a case that is linked to the Specific Rule
TEMPEST V KELNER (1846)
What was the TEMPEST V KELNER case about?
-It was held that 'goods, wares and merchandise in a statue did not cover stocks and shares.
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