Interpretation Of Statutes

The judicial process of determining, in accordance with certain rules and presumptions, the true meaning of Acts of Parliament. The principal rules of statutory interpretation are as follows.
(1) An Act must be construed as a whole, so that internal inconsistencies are avoided.

(2) Words that are reasonably capable of only one meaning must be given that meaning whatever the result. This is called the literal rule .

(3) Ordinary words must be given their ordinary meanings and technical words their technical meanings, unless absurdity would result. This is the golden rule .

(4) When an Act aims at curing a defect in the law any ambiguity is to be resolved in such a way as to favour that aim (the mischief rule ).

(5) The ejusdem generis rule (of the same kind): when a list of specific items belonging to the same class is followed by general words (as in “cats, dogs, and other animals”), the general words are to be treated as confined to other items of the same class (in this example, to other domestic animals).

(6) The rule expressio unius est exclusio alterius (the inclusion of the one is the exclusion of the other): when a list of specific items is not followed by general words it is to be taken as exhaustive. For example, “weekends and public holidays” excludes ordinary weekdays.

The House of Lords has ruled against the existence of an alleged social policy rule , which would enable an ambiguous Act to be interpreted so as to best give effect to the social policy underlying it. Ambiguities may occasionally be resolved by referring to external sources; for example, the intention of Parliament in regard to a proposed Act, as revealed by ministers during its passage through Parliament, may be discovered by reference to Hansard.

There are some general presumptions relating to the interpretation of statutes. They are presumed
(1) not to bind the Crown (including the sovereign personally);

(2) not to operate retrospectively so far as substantive (but not procedural) law is concerned;

(3) not to interfere with vested rights (particularly without compensation);

(4) not to oust the jurisdiction of the courts; and

(5) not to derogate from constitutional rights or international law.

But clear words or necessary implication may override these presumptions. A consolidating statute is presumed not be intended to alter the law, but this does not apply to codifying statutes, which may be concerned with clarifying law that was previously unclear. Penal and taxing statutes are subject to strict construction , i.e. if after applying the normal rules of interpretation it is still doubtful whether or not a penalty or tax attaches to a particular person or transaction, the ambiguity must be resolved in favour of the subject.
 See also Interpretation Act; interpretation clause.

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