Thursday, February 23, 2012

Statutory Interpretation

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The Interpretation Act 178 defines many terms which are used commonly, and it supplies that its definitions are to be used in interpreting any Act that contains the words defined (unless a subsequent Act defines them differently). The Act outlines certain standard definitions of common provisions, for example, “he” includes “she” and the singular includes plural. This format enables statutes to be drafted more briefly. Judges have developed general methods of statutory interpretation. In the court system, judges are often faced with the overwhelming task of determining the exact meaning of a particular legislation and whether a particular activity or person’s conduct fits the scope of that legislation. A particular “interpretation” must then be applied to the legislation. With interpretation comes two major problems, ambiguity which arises through an error during the drafting process whereby words used in a statute sometimes has two or more literal meanings; and uncertainty where the words of a statute are intended to apply to factual situations and the courts are called upon to make the decision whether or not the facts amounts to a realistic situation visualized by the Act.

When legislation is prepared and made into an Act of Parliament, government utilize draft persons to guarantee that the Act is written clearly and unambiguously so that judges correctly apply the literal meaning of the Act when it is needed in the court.

There are three essential rules which judges follow when interpreting statutes. They are the literal rule, golden rule and mischief rule. The literal rule means the interpretation of the Act solely according to the literal meaning. It is usually the first approach that is taken by judges. The objective of the court is to discover the intention of Parliament as expressed in the words used, even if it produces absurdity or hardship, in which case the remedy is for Parliament to pass on amending statute. One of the leading statements of the literal rule was made by Tindal CJ in the Sussex Peerage Case (1844)

“…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” (Statutory Interpretation 1).

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The first task of the court is to apply the literal rule to see if a decision could be achieved. The literal rules was applied to the case of IRC v Hinchey [160] where the House of Lords was faced with the interpretation of the Income Tax Act 15. A person not filling in his tax form properly lost £0 and treble the tax he ought to pay under the Act. This ought to mean treble the difference and not treble the whole tax. The House of Lords held the latter to be the case, but was later corrected by statute (Bond & Kay 8).

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