Statutory Interpretation | Criminal Law Essay


Defining Statutory interpretation is to fulfilling their job of enforcing the law to the facts before them and the courts regularly have to interpret statutes. Whilst it is true to say that the intention of Parliament should prevail, the courts have adopted a number of conventional practices to resolve ambiguities. An overriding requirement is now contained in the Human Rights Act 1998 in that, so far as it is possible to do so, legislation must be read to give effect in a way which is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.1

As Parliament could make laws, judges need to interpret them. The process of the court course may therefore be of great implication in the way in which an Act operates. There is still no clear suggestion of what the words mean. Thus the court will apply certain rules that have changed out of the courts nature. Alas the courts have not always taken a regular approach to this task. Alternatively they have taken at times thorough different approaches.

Judicial interpretation is unregulated by Parliament, however Parliament generally drafts Acts but minimise the amount of interpretation that is necessary. The motive for this is that to have a high amount of judicial interpretation would contain definite and result in modify of laws by judges. This would revolve result in more complicated legislation summary to avoid judicial rewriting. However, civil servants may, in certain circumstances, deliberately outline legislation ambiguously to avoid disputes in Parliament if they are hesitant as to the effects of the Act or to permit for future potential developments.

A broad terms maybe used a term may be used to clear different possibilities e.g. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.2“…Any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier…”

Case of Brock v DPP [1993]3Q.B.D held that the word “type” was broader in meaning than the word bread & this was to cover dogs which were not pedigree but shared a number a substantial characteristics.

Ambiguity a term or phrase which produces more than one meaning. There may be a drafting error on parliamentary counsel lawyers who draft the bills may make an error which is not detected by parliament. This is particularly when the bill was subjected to many amendment.

Such as the case R v Allen [1872]4 the words “shall marry create a legal impossibility on the basis a married person cannot get married therefore the words need to be altered.”

The court altered the word shall marry to *2who goes through a ceremony of marriage.”

Changes in the use of language, meaning of words can change over the years.

May confusion led to “no words”

Literal Rule can define the statutory rules interpretation act 1978 he=she interpretation sections, S34 Theft act 1968 “goods”.

Common rules have different certain of rules which is a word but it means to choose meaning neither or more or less. The courts should apply to the words in a statue their ordinary literal meaning even if result produces is absurd e.g. the case Whitley v Chappell[1868]5 representation of the people act 1860 “person”. The court interpreted the word “person” literally and held that the defendant had not committed an offence. Another case is the London &North Eastern Railway Co v Berriman [1948]6.Berriman was carrying out routine main entrance and oiling which the court held did not literally fall within relying and repairing.

Professor Glanville Williams quoted “The literal rule is a rule against using against intelligence in understanding language. Anyone who in ordinary life interpreted words literally being in different to what the speaker or what the writer meant would be regarded as pedant, mischief, maker or an idiot.”

The second rule is the Golden Rule, the rule in an extension of the literal rule and it can be used if a literal rule interpretation on gives more than one meaning I.E Ambiguity.

“The literal rule breaks down the face of ambiguity.” This rule requires the court to give the words their ordinary grammatical meaning. The court should then adopt the meaning product the least and absurd result. If any case it is not possible to apply an appropriate definition the court may alter the words so that the purpose of the act is achieved.

A quote from Lord Reid “in order to give effect to the true intention of parliament… it may be necessary to do some violence to the words.”

This recommends this golden rule on the case of R v Allen [1872] and the case of RE Siggworth[1935]7.Administration of estates acts 1925 “issue” to prevent in heritance of this method.

Mischief Rule, as the rule in Heydon's[1583] case the rule concentrates on discovering the purpose of the act. The court must consider four important questions.1) what was the common law before the act was passed? 2) What was mischief? 3) What parliament done? 4) True reason?

Smith v Hughes [1963]8, “street or public place.”

The conclusion Lord Reid made clear that the girls would be liable even if they couldn't be seen but could be heard.

Rogers v Dodd [1962] the case we know that they were allowed to trade until 1am Sunday morning, although they served their goods until 1:30 am with doors all shut they served through the open window. They were charged with in breach of the licence.

Thought that there is a ranking so that the Courts use literal rule golden rule mischief rule in that order. Use literal rule unless there is an absurdity in which case use golden rule. Where both fail and there is still an ambiguity use mischief rule.

But clear now that the ranking is not strictly adhered to and becomes very difficult for any party to a legal dispute to predict which rule will be used.

To have Clear willingness to use purposive approach even where there is no absurdity at issue.

The Purposive approach goes beyond the mischief rule in that the court is just not looking to see what was wrong with the old law the court is also trying to decide what the parliament was trying to achieve. The champion of the approach was Lord Denning.

This approach is however favoured by the majority of European countries when interpreting their own legislation and it has been adopted by the European court of justice when interpreting European law.

As in the case of Pepper v Hart[1993]9the House of Lords in an unusual of 7 sitting judges agreed by the majority 6 to 1 lift the ban only the Lord Chancellor, lord Mackay dissented in his judgment and this was in the basis of cost. Lord Brown Wilkinson who set out the criteria of where the words in an act are ambiguous, obscure or create an absurdity on a literal translation.


The leading decision from one of my core modules is from Contract Law which suffice Fisher v. Bell [1961]10 is a case regarding the requirements of offer and acceptance in the configuration of a contract. This case was interpreted as literal rule but to define literal interpretation is not as easy as it might appear. Ryrieinvokes other, related terms like “normal” and “plain” to explicate what he means by literalness11 but by itself this explanation is not enough. Our sense of normality depends radically on our sense of context, including a whole worldview, as Fish shows “Normal Circumstances,” 12Without repeating the contents of Fish's article, let me proceed to examine the problem by a parallel route.

This here case instituted that where merchandise are displayed in a shop together with a price tag such demonstration is treated as an invitation to treat by the supplier and not an offer. The offer is actually made when the customer hands over the goods to the cashier at the same time with payment. As we see that the acceptance occurs at the point when the cashier takes payment from the purchaser. If we consider the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 S.(1) Any person who manufactures, sells or hires or offers for sale or hire, [or exposes or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire]4 or lends to gives to any other person—

(a) any knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife, sometimes known as a “flick knife” or “flick gun13

The claimant, a chief inspector of the English police force put evidence against the defendant stating the defendant was in breach of S.1 (1) by which offering the flick knife for sale.

At first hearing, the prosecutor presented that the defendant has shown the knife and ticket in the window with the intention of interesting a buyer, and that this amounted to an offer of sale sufficient to form a criminal liability under S. 1(1) of the Act. The defendant presented that this was not satisfactory to be amounted as an offer. The judges decided at first instance that displaying the knife was merely an invitation to treat, not an offer, and that no liability is imposed. The prosecutor appealed the judges' decision the court upheld the first instance decision. Lord Parker, C.J., stated that “…most lay people and, indeed, I myself when I first read the papers, would be inclined to the view that to say that if a knife was displayed in a window like that with a price attached to it was not offering it for sale was just nonsense. In ordinary language it is there inviting people to buy it, and it is for sale; but any statute must of course be looked at in the light of the general law of the country. It is perfectly clear that according to the ordinary law of contract the display of an article with a price on it in a shop window is merely an invitation to treat. It is in no sense an offer for sale the acceptance of which constitutes a contract. That is clearly the general law of the country. Not only is that so, but it is to be observed that in many statutes and orders which prohibit selling and offering for sale of goods it is very common when it is so desired to insert the words "offering or exposing for sale," "exposing for sale" being clearly words which would cover the display of goods in a shop window”.14 From here we can argue that the method selected in this case is one of literal rulings, although the appeal was dismissed it can carry a heavy load on interpreting the literal meaning. The literal rule is liable to lead to hardship but in certain circumstances the courts have decided that it should always be followed in Leadale v. Lewis [1982]13, the House of Lords said that tax statutes with clear meanings should have that meaning favoured even if the result is 'wrong', cause's hardship or leaves loopholes that might be exploited.

1 accessed 24/12/2007

2 Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) (c. 65)

3 [1993]Q.B.D

4[1872] Section 57 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861

5 [1868] 4 LRQB 147

6 [1946] 1 All ER 255

7[1935] AC 225

8[1963] 3 WLR

9 [1993] AC 593

10[1961] 1 Q.B. 394, [1960] 3 All E.R. 731

11 Dispensationalism Today, pp. 86-87

12 ibid pp. 625-44


13[1982] 2 LRQB 111