Principles of Statutory Interpretation

Principles of Statutory Interpretation

Interpretation of legislation refers to the action of the judges to try and understand the provisions of a statute or the intention of the parliament when enacting that statute (Bennion, 1997). The rationale for this is that the laws must be written in general terms so that they are able to deal with both the present and the future situations. Notably, however, the draftsman’s capacity to anticipate future problems is often limited and on certain circumstances, he may overlook a likely misinterpretation of a clause inserted in a statute (Bennion, 1997). As a result, the courts have the obligation to interpret statutes. In doing so, they apply the rules of interpretation recognized in law.

The aim of this paper therefore is to conduct an analysis of the principles employed by judges in interpreting statute. Furthermore we will analyze whether the application of these principles result in fairness and consistency of the court decisions.

Literal Rule

The application of this principle requires that the wording of legislation should be construed in their plain and regular meaning regardless of whether or not it appears sensible (Arden, 2004). The aim of this principle of interpretation is to explain what the law is rather than what it ought to be.

The practice is that the court must apply this rule before resulting to the other principles of interpretation. Lord Duport Steel v Sirs (1980) affirmed that ‘if the words are clear then you must follow them even if they lead to a manifest of absurdity.’ The application of this principle however is subject to variations. This was exemplified in Fisher v Bell (1960)in which the defendant made an argument that displaying an item on the window of a shop made it an offence to make an offer of a weapon (Flick-knife) pursuant to the provisions of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act (1959). The court in making a determination stated that the display was merely an invitation to treat and the parliament in enacting the statute knew the technical meaning of the term offer in common law.


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