|General rules of interpretation|
|General theories of interpretation|
The purposive approach (sometimes referred to as purposivism, purposive construction, purposive interpretation, or the modern principle in construction) is an approach to
Purposive interpretation is a derivation of
Critics of purposivism argue it fails to separate the powers between the legislator and the judiciary, as it allows more freedom in interpretation by way of extraneous materials in interpreting the law.
The plain meaning rule gained popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries as the courts took an increasingly strict view of the words within statutes. Under the plain meaning rule, the words of the statute are given their natural or ordinary meaning. The plain meaning rule of statutory interpretation should be the first rule applied by judges.
One of the leading statements of the plain meaning rule was made by Chief Justice
|“||… the only rule for the construction of Acts of Parliament is, that they should be construed according to the intent of the Parliament which passed the Act. If the words of the statute are in themselves precise and unambiguous, then no more can be necessary than to expound those words in their natural and ordinary sense. The words themselves alone do, in such case, best declare the intention of the lawgiver.||”|
Strict application of the plain meaning rule can sometime result in "absurd" outcomes. Examples of the plain meaning rule producing absurd outcomes can be seen in the following cases:
The golden rule permits the courts to depart from the plain meaning rule if the meaning leads to consequences it considers to be absurd or ambiguous.
This was propounded in Grey v Pearson (1857) where
|“||In construing… statutes… the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity, or some repugnance or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument, in which case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified, so as to avoid the absurdity and inconsistency, but no farther.||”|
The degree of absurdity or ambiguity necessary to exercise the golden rule is determined on a case by case basis by the individual judge in question. There are two general situations in which the golden rule may be employed: narrowly, to take the 'better' reading of two alternatives, or more widely, to broaden a rule that, although unambiguous, leads to an absurd outcome.
The case Maddox v Storer  1 Q.B. 451 is typical of the more narrow use. In Maddox, the defender had been travelling at over the 30 mph speed limit in a minibus with eleven seats (excluding that of the driver), most of which were unoccupied. Per Road Traffic Act 1960 travelling at over 30 mph in a vehicle ‘adapted to carry more than seven passengers’ was an offence. It was held that adapted to could be taken to mean suitable for.
The court applies the golden rule in a wider sense in Adler v George (1964). Under the
In Re Sigsworth (1935), a son had murdered his mother. Under slayer or forfeiture rules of long standing in the United Kingdom, he would have been excluded as beneficiary under her will. She had, however, died intestate, and the Administration of Justice Act 1925 provided that her next of kin would inherit. Although the situation was unambiguous, the absurdity inherent in such a situation meant that forfeiture had to be treated as applicable to intestacy rules taking the place of a will as well as wills themselves.
|“||A statute is to be so construed as to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy, thus giving the courts considerable latitude in achieving the objective of the legislature despite any inadequacy in the language employed by it.||”|
Heydon's Case (1584) laid out the following statement of the principles underlying what would come to be called the "mischief rule":
|“||For the sure and true interpretation of all statutes four things are to be discerned and considered:-
The mischief rule saw further development in Corkery v Carpenter (1951). In a decision of
the Court of King’s Bench, the Court had to decide whether a bicycle could be classified as a carriage. According to S.12 of the
In Smith v Hughes (1960), the defendant was charged under the Street Offences Act 1959 which made it an offence to solicit prostitution in a public place. The defendant was soliciting from within private premises (windows or on balconies) so they could be seen by the public without entering into the streets. The court applied the mischief rule holding that the activities of the defendant was within the mischief of the Act, and soliciting from within a house, is soliciting and molesting of the public. Therefore it is the same as if the defendant was outside on the street.
In Royal College of Nursing of the UK v DHSS (1981), the