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Statutory Interpretation - other principles and contrasting approaches

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Other principles of interpretation


European Law


Marleasing v LA Commercial (1992) ECJ

Held: where national courts have to interpret national law in a field governed by Community law, they must interpret that law in the light of the wording and purpose of the Community legislation, so far as it is possible for them to do so.


Bulmer v Bollinger [1974] CA

Clipart champagne


Lord Denning

"But when we come to matters with a European element, the treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back. Parliament has decreed that the treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute."

Human Rights Act 1998

Section 3 requires statutes to be read and given effect in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), so far as it is possible to do so, whether or not the legislation in question was enacted before or after the Act.

Acts that are Incompatible

Courts cannot simply disregard statutes or strike them down if it is not possible to interpret them in accord with the ECHR they can, by section 4, make a "Declaration of Incompatibility"


It is then up to Parliament to amend the law, and section 10 allows a government minister to take remedial action.


Before the act, Parliament always amended the law when the European Court of Human Rights made similar declarations in cases brought before it under the ECHR by UK nationals


Section 19 provides that a Minister in charge of a Bill must ‘make a statement to the effect that in his view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention rights’.


Mock v Pension Ombudsman. Times, April 7, 2000 (ChD)

The court used Trollpe's Autobiography to assist in the construction of 1834 and 1859 statutes relating to civil service superannuation schemes.


The court held that it was entitled to employ reliable contemporary observations on the implementation of statute law in particular Trollope's Autobiography of 1883.


Before we leave this topic, be aware that The Law Commission in 1967 and the Renton Committee in 1973 made suggestions for the reform of statutory interpretation.


The Law Commission suggested that more liberal use should be made of the internal and external aids; and in the event of ambiguity, the construction which best promoted the ‘legislative purpose’ should be adopted - i.e. they favoured the purposive approach.

The Renton Committee suggested that there should be a move towards including less detail in the legislation, and moving towards a more European way of drafting; in itself this would lead to purposive interpretation.
The Committee further suggested that  more use could be made in statutes of examples showing the courts how an Act was intended to work in particular situations; that long, un-paragraphed sentences should be avoided - something that the Plain English Campaign has been after for some time; that statutes should be arranged to suit the convenience of the ultimate users; and that there should be more consolidation of statutes.


In Padfield v Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food [1968] Lord Reid said:

"Parliament must have conferred the discretion with the intention that it should be used to promote the policy and objects of the Act; the policy and objects of the Act must be determined by construing the Act as a whole and construction is always a matter of law for the court. In a matter of this kind it is not possible to draw a hard and fast line, but if the Minister, by reason of his having misconstrued the Act or for any other reason, so uses his discretion as to thwart or run counter to the policy and objects of the Act, then our law would be very defective if persons aggrieved were not entitled to the protection of the court. So it is necessary first to construe the Act."

On the other hand the literal rule was criticised by the Law Commission (1969) on the ground that:

"Judges have tended excessively to emphasise the literal meaning of statutory provisions without giving due weight to their meaning in wider contexts.

"To place undue emphasis on the literal meaning of the words is to assume an unattainable perfection in draftsmanship.

"It ignores the limitations of language".


Of the golden rule

The Law Commission (1969) noted that:

"The rule provided no clear means to test the existence of the characteristics of absurdity, inconsistency or inconvenience, or to measure their quality or extent.

"As it seemed that "absurdity" was in practice judged by reference to whether a particular interpretation was irreconcilable with the general policy of the legislature


"the golden rule turns out to be a less explicit form of the mischief rule".

The Law Commission (1969) emphasised the importance in interpretation of a provision of the general legislative purpose underlying it. The Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation (1975) approved this.


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