4-2 The Rules of Statutory Interpretation.pdf

4-2 The Rules of Statutory Interpretation.pdf - 4.2 The...

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4.2 The rules of statutory interpretation In this part we will explore the number of rules developed by the courts to assist with the interpretation of a statute. These are: the literal rule the golden rule the mischief rule the purposive approach. These rules each take different approaches to interpretation of a statute. Some judges prefer one rule, while other judges prefer another. Some judges also feel that their role is to fill the gaps and ambiguities in the law whilst others think that it should be left to Parliament as the supreme law-maker. As the rules can result in very different decisions, it is important to understand each of them and how they may be used. 4.2a The literal rule Under this rule the judge considers what the statute actually says, rather than what it might mean. In order to achieve this, the judge will give the words in the statute a literal meaning, that is, their plain ordinary everyday meaning, even if the effect of this is to produce what might be considered as an otherwise unjust or undesirable outcome. The literal rule says that the intention of Parliament is best found in the ordinary and natural meaning of the words used. As the legislative democratic part of the state, Parliament must be taken to want to effect exactly what it says in its laws. If judges are permitted to give an obvious or non-literal meaning to the words of parliamentary law, then the will of Parliament, and thereby the people, is being contradicted. Lord Diplock once noted: “Where the meaning of the statut ory words is plain and unambiguous it is not then for the judges to invent fancied ambiguities as an excuse for failing to give effect to its plain meaning because they consider the consequences for doing so would be inexpedient, or even unjust or immoral. Duport Steel v Sirs (1980) The use of the literal rule is illustrated by the case of Fisher v Bell (1960). The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 made it an offence to offer for sale certain offensive weapons including flick knives. James Bell, a Bristol shopkeeper, displayed a weapon of this type in his shop window in the arcade at Broadmead. The Divisional Court held that he could not be convicted because, giving the words in the statute a tight literal meaning, Mr Bell had not offered the knives for sale. In the law of contract, placing something in a shop window is not technically an offer for sale; it is merely an invitation to treat. (An invitation to treat is an invitation to others to make offers, as by displaying goods in a shop window.) It is the customer who makes an offer to the shop when he proffers money for an item on sale. The court upheld that under the literal meaning of offer, the shopkeeper had not made an offer to sell and so was not guilty of the offence. Parliament subsequently changed the law to make it clear that displaying a flick knife in a shop window was an offence.
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The literal rule has both advantages and disadvantages. Constitutionally it respects
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