Statutory Interpretation: Meaning
Explain what is meant by the term ‘statutory interpretation’ and to what extent does this compliment or undermine the role of the parliament? Statutory interpretation refers to a process used by the courts when it looks at a piece of statute to interpret what its definition is.A statute is a bill also known as a law which was passed by the legislature (Parliament) that imposes rules on people.However these ‘statutes’ may be open to interpretation and are occasionally are riddles with ambiguities.
So statutory interpretation is the process that focuses on resolving these ambiguities and deciding how a particular bill or law will apply in a particular case.
Some statutes have a very clear and straight forward meaning to them and therefor interpreting them incredibly easy, but in many cases there can be ambiguities and vagueness in the wording of the statute that the judges must try and resolve for the sole purpose of stopping and absurdity occurring. Courts can only interpret the law they do not question the origins or the reason.
There are numerous rules when it comes to statutory interpretation, the first and most important of these rules is the rule that governs and deals with the statutes plain language, the rule is essentially the statute means what it says, For example if the statute refers to vehicles it would be interpreted as vehicles not planes or submarines. This is known as the Literal rule and it looks at the statute in its natural and ordinary meaning in its context. The advantage and disadvantages to using this rule is that it does encourage precision in drafting laws, well unless the Legislature had any reason to be deliberately careless. t also is meant to bring a certain sense of certainty, however there is no certainty when It comes to something like literalism so can that really be the case? , It is next to useless when a judge is trying to interpret an act where broad terms have deliberately been used however the fact remains that the ability to draft a perfect bill is impossible. And the case still remains that it gives the law making power or at least the powers to “bend” laws to judges something which is in violation of the idea of Parliamentary supremacy. An Example of the Literal rule is; “Whitely v, Chappell (1869).
The defendant had voted in the name of a person who had died, but was found not guilty of the offence of personating ‘any person entitled to vote’: a dead person is not entitled to vote. ” (http://legal-directory. net/english-law/interpretation-literal-rule. htm) Another rule that governs statutory interpretation is the mischief rule, and according to the law commission it was regarded as the most satisfactory of the three rules, Its basic purpose is to allow the courts to look into and stop the mischief that the law was passed to prevent, an example of this rule being put into effect Is; “Smith v.
Hughes 1960, a prostitute solicited from inside a building to the street. A private building was held to be a “street or public place” for the purposes of the Act to avoid the mischief of harlotry. ”(http://e-lawresources. co. uk/Adler-v-George. php) However unlike the literal rule it doesn’t take away from the idea of parliamentary supremacy too much as they still apply the law in the same way that parliament intended it to be.
The final and third rule is the Golden rule, this is basically the rule which comes into play if the following of the Literal rule would create an absurdity, so the courts are allowed to interpret and apply a secondary meaning to it. A really good case example is the case of Adler v George (1964) that stated Under the Official Secrets Act 1920 it was an offence to obstruct a member of the armed forces ‘in the vicinity’ of a prohibited palace. The defendant was actually in the prohibited place, rather than ‘in the vicinity’ of it, at the time of obstruction. ( http://e-lawresources. co. uk/Adler-v-George. hp) The courts however knew that following the literal interpretation of this law would lead to an absurdity and they used the golden rule to determine it was “absurd” to thing a law would apply near something and not inside it. Statutory interpretation is a tricky task, so judges can use different things to help them in there tasks these are called “aids” and they come in two different forms ‘Intrinsic aids’ these are something that is found within the act of parliament itself that they can use to try and interpret and apply the act with and ‘extrinsic aids’ these are things found outside of the act of parliament.
An examples of an Intrinsic aids is the short title of the bill. However there are far more Extrinsic aids for example; the courts may call upon Dictionaries to find the definition of words to aid in exact interpretation, Especially if dealing with the Literal rule. They may also refer to previous Acts and how they were interpreted in the past if a new act of parliament is replacing a previous one. They also use the law commissioned reports to see why the law was created, something that would come in very handy if trying to apply the Mischief rule.
They may also refer to the Hansard; this is edited verbatim report of all the proceedings in both of the houses of parliament. Important things to know about that is that judges may only look at statements made by a minister or another promoter of the bill. The whole idea of these 3 rules does make the concept of Parliamentary supremacy a bit feeble, as the ability to interpret and bend the law is completely at the Judge’s discretion. It does degrade the Idea Significantly.