A statute law is a written law produced by Parliament which originates from decisions made in other courts and the country’s written constitution. It is the highest type of law which passes Acts onto the Houses of Parliament where they debate whether the Act should exist or not.
The literal rule is the first rule applied by judges which takes priority over the other rules. The words of these rules are used by the judge whereby their exact meaning is put across to the court. Therefore, it cannot be altered to explain the case to a defendant’s desirable outcome and must be used in its ordinary form.
This rule was used in the Fisher v Bell (1960) case whereby a Bristol shopkeeper named James Bell placed a flick knife in his shop window. However, according to the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 it is illegal to put an offensive weapon, such as guns and knives, in your window whereby it can be sold. But, according to the Divisional Court, Bell was not offering the item for sale but merely placing the weapon in his window. Therefore, if a customer wished to buy the weapon they could offer a price for it but Bell had not specifically priced it, making it unclear as to whether the item was actually for sale or not. Therefore he was innocent. As a result of this case, Parliament made it clear within the Weapons Act that a flick knife is also classed as an offensive weapon.
Another case whereby one can see the effect of the Literal Rule is R v Harris (1836) whereby the defendant bit off his victim’s nose. When the victim took this case to court the statute at the time stated that it was only an offence to “stab, cut or wound” another person, therefore biting was not classed as an offence; to do either of the three above a weapon would have to be used and biting does not need a weapon to be carried out. This caused the defendants conviction to be quashed.
This rule represents the respect of Parliaments power to make any laws it may find suitable to produce in order to keep the country in order. It also helps to ensure that the law is as accurate as possible when drafted and that anyone who can read English can understand the law, making it easy to understand for everyone and not just those working within the law. However, as it is clear to see from the cases presented above, it can sometimes lead to absurdities such as the R v Harris (1836) case whereby the defendant was not prosecuted for biting someone’s nose and causing the victim physical damage because it was not inflicted using a weapon. This is also due to its inability to note that the English language itself can be interpreted differently by different people and that words can mean different things when put into different contexts and situations.
To prevent the Literal Rule causing absurdities the Golden Rule was produced. This is a modification of the Literal Rule which is used when the Literal Rule makes the conclusion of a case irrational. Therefore, the Golden Rule should be used to produce another meaning of the law in order to prevent absurd results occurring.
An example of this rule being used was Sigworth (1935) whereby a son had murdered his mother who had not yet written her will. According to the Administration of Justice Act 1925, the son would then be entitled to his mother’s property and belongings and the Literal Rule would allow him to do this. However, the Golden Rule stops the son from benefiting from his crime as it can explain the Justice Act in a different light and preventing an absurdity. If the Literal Rule was used here then the son would have been entitled to his mother’s inheritance despite him having killed her, but this would have been immoral.
R v Allen (1872) was another case whereby the Golden Rule was used. According to the Offences against the Person Act 1861 under s.57 it is an offence to marry another person during your lifetime if you have already been married before. The Literal Rule would state that this meant you are only allow to marry once, so the defendant in this case would have been found guilty of this offence. However, the Golden Rule allows the wording of the Act to be altered slightly stating it is only an offence if a person gets married again whilst still married to another person. Therefore, the defendant’s conviction was quashed. If this case had been looked at using the Literal Rule then the defendant would have been guilty of the offence as he had already been married before, and the act states you can only get married once. However, by using the Golden Rule the case can be looked at in a more appropriate manner.
An advantage of this rule is that it avoids any irrational decisions made on a case which the Literal Rule may give. For example, in R v Harris (1836) the defendant would have been sentenced to biting his victim but as the statute at the time did not class this as an offence they were not charged, leading to an absurd result. However, different people, and in this case judges, have different opinions as to what they find absurd and there is no test of absurdity. Therefore, what one judge may seem as irrational another may think is rational. This would not happen in a case where the Literal Rule was used because there is only one meaning to a statute as it cannot be expanded upon like it can with the Golden Rule.
The final rule is the Mischief Rule. This is the oldest of the three rules which is applied when a judge wishes to find Parliament’s intention when interpreting the statute. This can be seen within the rule with Heydon’s case (1584) whereby four points had to be taken into account in order for a statute to be considered. These were as follows: before the act was carried out what was the common law, the “mischief and defect” that the common law did not represent, the remedy Parliament has put forward in order to prevent the act happening again and the real reason for Parliament creating the remedy.
The Smith v Hughes (1960) case saw this rule used whereby the defendants (whom were prostitutes) were being found to have made an offence under the Street Offences Act 1959 where it is illegal to solicit and loiter in a public place. However, the defendants were actually soliciting from private premises and therefore not a public place. According to the mischief rule, the defendants were guilty of this offence and were therefore charged as Parliament would see their soliciting as a form of harassment within the Street Offences Act 1959.
Another case whereby one can see how the Mischief Rule was used was Elliot and Grey (1960). The defendant’s car was jacked up on the side of the road without a battery and insurance, causing the vehicle to be unable to drive. But, according to the Road Traffic Act 1930, it is an offence to own an uninsured vehicle. Although the car was not in a state to be used, the Mischief Rule caused the defendant to be charged with the offence as Parliament classed the uninsured vehicle to be a hazard because if an incident was to occur involving it, anyone involved would not have any cover and therefore would not be able to claim any sort of compensation.
As it can be seen from the two cases presented above, the Mischief Rule avoids unjust or absurd results when charging a person with an offence as all the sentences made are made to help improve society. The Law Commission also finds it a more reasonable way to interpret offences as they are all looked upon in the light of Parliament, giving them supremacy. However, this rule can appear to give judges too much power as the acts can be looked upon differently according to the judiciaries opinions, so some defendants may get a harsher sentence than others. Also, this rule was produced in the 16th century whereby the main source of law was common law and Parliament did not have as much power as they do today. Therefore, it can be looked upon as out of date as society has changed dramatically since then and Parliament has gained more power in running the country.
A difference between the Mischief Rule and the Golden Rule is that the Mischief Rule appears to be used when Parliament needs to make a change to a law to suit them whereas the Golden Rule is used to suit the defendant. Like the Golden Rule the Mischief Rule allows the Act to be altered to fit the case whereas the Literal Rule uses Acts as they are presented in their original form. However, despite their differences each of the Rules respects Parliament.
In conclusion, the Literal, Golden and Mischief Rule are all made for statute law but each has different roles. The Literal Rule is used when an Act is going to be used for its word-to-word basis. However, as this can cause absurd results the Golden Rule was created to amend this problem whereby the words of the statute can be altered to fit in with society today. The Mischief Rule is then used to fill any gaps in statutes that Parliament may not have yet covered through experiences with different cases in order to make moral decisions.
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