The rules and methods of statutory interpretation allow judges to decide cases as they wish. Discuss the accuracy of this statement.

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Statutory interpretation

Judges have discretion to interpret laws. There are several rules which judges can use.

Firstly, the literal rule is whereby the plain ordinary and natural meaning of words in a statute is taken. It is said to be the best way to uphold Parliament’s intention.  Judges are given limited discretion to decide on laws as they have to follow the meaning of the words.  However, it may lead to absurdity.

In the case of Whiteley v Chappell, it was an offence to impersonate any person entitled to vote to prevent electoral malpractice. However, the defendant impersonated a dead person who under the literal rule was not entitled to vote. He was acquitted. However, this shows that literal rule can result in repugnant situations as he was clearly guilty for impersonation.

Also in the case of Fisher v Bell, the defendant had displayed flick knives in his shop window. Under the Offensive Weapons Act, it was an offence to sell or offer for sale any flick knife. However, the literal rule was used and the defendant was acquitted as displaying was merely an invitation to treat and not an offer for sale.

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Under the literal rule, judges have no discretion as they have to abide by the words of the statute. However, the literal rule may be useless when the solutions cannot be found in the statute or is ambiguous. An experienced draftsman cannot foresee all circumstances. However, it upholds Parliamentary Supremacy.

The golden rule is used to fill in the gaps of literal rule. The judges are allowed to substitute a reasonable meaning in light of the statute. This prevents absurd decision being made under the literal rule. For example in the case of Re Sigsworth, a son wanted to inherit ...

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