notes the procedure that a court focuses at a statute and establishes what it
means. A statute, which is a bill or law passed by the legislature, forces duty
and rules on the people. Although they make the law, statutes may be open to clarification
and have ambiguities. The judiciary may apply rules of statutory
interpretation both to an enactment by the legislature and to representative
as administrative agency regulations, in common law authorities.
Statutory interpretation first became notable in common law systems, with
England being the ideal example. In Roman and Civil law, a statute or code directs
the magistrate, but there is no previous legal case. In Britain, Parliament
historically were unsuccessful to enact a complete code of legislation, which
is the reason why the courts were left to develop the common law; and having
decided a case and the cause of the decision, it would become binding on later
Correspondingly, a specific interpretation of a statute would also
become permanent, and it was necessary to establish a stable structure for statutory
interpretation. During, the construction of statutes the English courts
developed rules to assist them in the task. These were:
Rule of Harmonious Construction
Noscitur a sociis
Reddendo Singula Singulis
The judiciary interprets
how legislation should apply in a particular case as no legislation straightforward
and particular that addresses all circumstances. The court must try to
determine how a statute should be enforced. This requires statutory
construction. It is a tenet of statutory construction that the legislature is
supreme when creating law and that the court is merely an interpreter of the
law. Nevertheless, in practice, by performing the construction the court can
make sweeping changes in the operation of the law.
The literal rule
The literal rule2
when faced with a piece of legislation, the courts are required to interpret
its meaning so that they can apply it to the facts of the case before them. The
courts have developed a range of rules of interpretation to assist them. When
the literal rule is applied the words in a statute are given their ordinary and
natural meaning, in an effort to respect the will of Parliament.
Fisher v Bell (1960).
The golden rule
The golden rule under the
golden rule for statutory interpretation, where the literal rule gives an
absurd result, which Parliament could not have intended, the judge can
substitute a reasonable meaning in the light of the statute as a whole.
Adler v George (1964)
The mischief rule
The mischief rule for
interpreting statutes requires judges to consider three factors:
1. What the law was before the statute was
2. What problem (or mischief) the statute was
trying to remedy;
3. What remedy Parliament was trying to provide
Heydon’s case (1584) 3 Co.
Rep. 7a, 7b
The purposive approach
Over the last three decades, the courts have accepted that
the literal approach can be unsatisfactory. Instead, the judges have been
increasingly influenced by the European approach to statutory interpretation
which focuses on giving effect to the purpose of the legislation.
R (Quintavalle) v Secretary of State for Health (2003)