You are on page 1of 2

Judges use a variety of different approaches when faced with an issue of statutory interpretation Discuss with reference to case


Statutory interpretation is the way judges interpret statues made by parliament. Judges have to interpret law made by parliament because certain words may have more than one meaning and so the courts have to interpret it in a way to try to enforce what parliament intended. However sometimes this may be difficult is because a broad term in a statue may create an unjust outcome or lead to absurdity. Judges use a variety of approaches when faced with issues of statutory interpretation. These are known as the rules of interpretation. There are 4 rules that judges use when interpreting the wording in a statue. These rules are the literal rule, the golden rule, the mischief rule and the purposive approach.

The literal rule is the first rule of statutory interpretation, this is when judges take the ordinary, plain and natural meaning of a word. The rationale behind the use of the literal rule is if the words of the statue are clear then they must be applied even if the outcome is harsh. The definition of the literal rule was made clear in the case of Sussex v Peerage Case. One example of where the literal rule was used is in the case of Chappell v Nestle. In this case the defendant impersonated a dead person so they can vote. The statue stated that it was a criminal offence to impersonate any person entitled to vote. The court held that a dead person is not entitled to vote so the defendant was found not guilty. However, this rule ironically went against parliaments intention. Although the literal rule is intended to enforce parliaments intention when interpreting the natural, this can cause some problems. Another case where application of the literal rule resulted in an absurd outcome was in the case of Fisher v Bill. The words offer for sale were used which allowed shop keepers to display flick knives in their shop. The court held the displaying of the flick knives was not an offer to sale them but an invitation to treat. This allowed the shop keepers to continue displaying the knives. One of the disadvantages of the literal rule is that it sometimes interpreting the word in its literal sense can result in an absurd outcome which can create injustice and this could create problems within the law. However, the advantage of it is follows exactly what parliament said therefore promotes certainty. Judges must interpret the law using the literal approach as far as possible to the extent it does not produce an absurd outcome. However, if the literal rule does lead to an absurd result the judge may use what is known as the golden rule. The golden rule is when judges avoid using the literal meaning of a word when the word may have more than one meaning or lead to an absurd outcome. The rationale behind the golden rule is it mitigates the potential harshness that arises from the literal rule. This was referred to in Grey v Pearson. The court ruled where the ordinary sense of the word is to be followed unless that would lead some absurdity or inconsistency. An example of where the Golden rule was applied is the case of Re Sigsworth. The defendant stood to inherit her mothers house under the Admin of estates act. However, he killed his mother and the court amended the meaning of the word so as to stop a murder benefiting from his crime. The golden rule was applied in preference to the literal rule. The advantage of the golden rule is that it allows for flexibility in a case where applying the literal rule will cause injustice and unfairness or a ridiculous outcome.

However, the disadvantage of this rule is it allows for judges to construct the law in a certain way to impair a false sense of justification The Mischief rule is also another approach to the interpretation of statues. The mischief rule is when judges interpret the wording in the law in the light of parliaments intention. The mischief rule tries to find what parliament really intended when it made the law. The mischief rule is different in relation to the golden rule and the literal rule, as the previous rules focus on what parliament said. This rule focuses on what parliament intended. The mischief rule is based on Heydons Case, the court must consider four points when taking the mischief approach to interpretation. These points are; what was the common law before the making of the act, what was the mischief common law did not provide, what remedy was proposed and what was the reason for the remedy. One case that applied the mischief rule was in the case Crockery v Carpentry. In this case the act said a person who is drunk and responsible of a carriage on the highway can be arrested without a warrant. The defendant was fond drunk on the highway with a bicycle. In the literal sense a bicycle is not considered a carriage however, the court said the mischief here was to prevent someone who is responsible for transportation for public and order safety. The advantage of the mischief rule is it allows judges to avoid absurd result. However, the disadvantages of the mischief rule is that it is very difficult in trying to find what parliament really intended when making the statue. This allows judges to slightly alter acts of parliament going beyond their given powers. Judges are supposed to apply the law and not make them. Another disadvantage is it creates uncertainty within the law, because one persons interpretation could be completely different to another person. Therefore, a judge is not really finding the mischief in parliaments intention but interpreting the statute in the way they think is parliaments intention.