This essay outlines the rules of statutory interpretation. The essay will starts by explaining what the rules are, and how they are used. This will follow by the three main rules: the literal rule, the golden rule and the mischief rule. The essay will also outline the difficulties that courts face in applying the rules.
The rules are not in fact rules, but guidelines. Law is a system of rules. The rules are a vital part of our social environment. We are subject to the rules at all times: at work, at home, in the shops. Statutory interpretation uses rules to help interpret what Parliament has enacted. The interpretation of statute has become a hugely personal affair with judges attempting to have their final say and using whatever means to justify their decisions in a particular case. Some judges have their own favorite rule and the different outcomes may result from the use of different rules. One judge may use a particular rule of interpretation and another judge may use another rule, even for the same case.
The three main rules of statutory interpretation are the literal rule, the golden rule and the mischief rule. The literal rule means the courts will give words their plain, ordinary or literal meaning even if the result is not very sensible and does not appear to be the on which parliament intended when making the law. This is the oldest of the rules and it is still popular today. The reason for the popularity of this rule is that, the judges are not supposed to make law. There is always the danger that a particular interpretation may be equivalent of making law, and instead of doing that some judges prefer to stick to the literal rule and avoid this danger. This rule encourages more careful drafting. However, those who applies literal rule it often speak of the dictionary meaning, and dictionaries always give a number of alternative meanings. For example, in the case of Whiteley v. Chappell (1868) “the defendant pretended to be someone who was on the voters list, but who had died. He was charged with impersonating ‘a person entitled to vote’, but was found not guilty.” (Understanding law 2008, p.91) . The conclusion draft by the court was that the defendant could not be convicted of the statutory offence because the person was dead. And according on a literal rule construction a dead person was not a person entitled to vote. Using the literal rule can also lead to injustice. For example, a railway worker’s widow claimed damages from her husband; the claimant husband was killed while oiling points along a railway line. Under the relevant statutes, compensation was only payable if he had been relaying or repairing the line. And the House of Lords held that claimant husband had merely been maintaining them, so she was denied compensation.