Everything to know about statute law

Statutory law or Statute law is written law set down by a legislature. Parliament passes legislation in the form of statutes, or Acts of Parliament. Statutes may originate with national, state legislatures or local municipalities. Statutes of lower jurisdictions are subordinate to the law of higher. Such Acts will often begin as a Public Bill, a Private Bill or a Private Member’s Bill. Bills can be introduced in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords.

Public Bills are introduced in both Houses and go through a number of set stages that generally involve Members of both Houses examining the Bill. Once a bill is passed into law, a Public Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. These bills affect the public as whole.

Private Bills are introduced for the benefits of particular individuals, groups or a particular locality. It often fails to become a law because of insufficient time in a particular parliamentary session. It is very rare nowadays.

Private Member’s Bills are the Non- government bills introduced by MPs of either House. It often deals with relatively narrow issues.

Statute Law may also be passed to consolidate or codify the law.

Statutory Interpretation means that the words of an Act of Parliament are authoritative. The constitutional role of the judiciary is the application of legislation. Judges use a variety of different approaches when faced with an issue of statutory interpretation. These are known as the ‘rules’ of interpretation. They are:

The Literal Rule

The literal rule is the primary rule which takes precedence over the others.

Words and phrases should be construed by the courts in their ordinary sense, the ordinary rules of grammar and punctuation should be applied and must be given their pain and literal meaning. Advantages of the literal rule are that they restrict the role of the judge, provide no scope for judges to use their own opinions or prejudices, upholds the separation of powers, and recognises Parliament as the supreme law maker.

Sussex Peerage Case (1844) 1 Cl & Fin 85: In this case the only rule for construction of Acts of Parliament is that they should be construed according to the intent of the Parliament which passed the Act. If the words of the Statute are in themselves precise and unambiguous, then no more can be necessary than to expound those words in that natural and ordinary sense. The words themselves alone do, best declare the intention of the law giver.

Whitely v Chappell (1868) LR 4 QB 147, DC: The defendant had impersonated a dead person and voted in an election in his name. The relevant statute provided that it was an offence to impersonate ‘any person entitled to vote’ at an election. Since the person impersonated was dead, he was not entitled to vote, and thus Whitley could not be convicted. This application of the literal rule ironically went against Parliament’s intention.

R v Harris (1836) 7 C & P 446: The defendant bit off his victim's nose. The statute made it an offence 'to stab cut or wound'. Held: under the literal rule the act of biting does not mean that it comes within the act of stabbing, cutting or wounding as these words implied an instrument had to be used. Therefore the defendant's conviction was made void.

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule provides that words must be given their plain, ordinary and literal meaning as far as possible but only to the extent that they do not produce absurdity or an affront to public policy. Advantages of the golden rule are that the errors in drafting can be corrected immediately. Decisions are generally more in line with Parliament's intention. It closes loopholes. Often gives results based on right and in keeping with truth or fact. It brings common sense to the law

Grey v Pearson (1857) 6 HL Cas 61, HL: The grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to unless that would lead to some absurdity, 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 that absurdity and inconsistency, but not farther.

Re Sigsworth [1935] Ch 89, DC: Under the Administration of Estates Act 1925 the estate of a person dying intestate (i.e. without leaving a will) was to be divided among the ‘issue’. Mrs Sigsworth was murdered by her son who stood to inherit her estate. Even though there was only one possible interpretation of the word ‘issue’, the court held that the son could not inherit the estate as it would be contrary to the public policy principle that a murderer should not benefit from his crime; the golden rule was applied in the preference to the literal rule.

The Mischief Rule

The Mischief Rule (or the rule in Heydon’s case (1584) 3 Co Rep 7a) involves an examination of the formal law in an attempt to deduce Parliament’s intention. The Mischief Rule is a certain rule that judges can apply in statutory interpretation in order to discover Parliament's intention. There are four points to consider:

What was the common law before the making of the Act?

What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide?

What was the remedy proposed by parliament to rectify the situation?

What was the true reason for the remedy?

Advantages of the Mischief Rule are: It closes any opportunity of evading a rule or law and allows the law to develop and adapt to the changing needs.

Corkery v Carpenter [1951] 1 KB 102, DC: Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872 provided that a person drunk in charge of a ‘carriage’ on the highway could be arrested without a warrant. The defendant was found drunk in charge of a bicycle. Although it could be argued that a bicycle is not a carriage in the normal meaning of the word, the Divisional Court held that a bicycle was a carriage for the purposes of the Act; the mischief here was prevention of drunken persons on the highway in charge of some form of transportation for the purposes of public order and safety.

Manchester City Council v Mc Cann [1999] QB 1214, CA: Section 118 (1)(a) of the County Courts Act 1984 provides that county courts may deal with anyone who wilfully insults the judge… or any officer of the court.’ The court held that a threat was an insult for the purposes of the Act; the mischief here was protection of various participants in the civil process. Even though a threat is not necessarily an insult using normal meanings, the ability for the court to deal with insults but not threats was contrary to parliament’s intention.

Smith v Hughes [1960] 1 WLR 830: The defendants were prostitutes who had been charged under the Street Offences Act 1959 which made it an offence to solicit in a public place. The prostitutes were offering to have sex with an exchange for money from private premises in windows or on balconies so could be seen by the public.

Held: The court applied the mischief rule holding that the activities of the defendants were within the mischief Act.