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Finding a Person Guilty

Satisfactory Essays
Finding a Person Guilty

Most cases that reach our higher courts concern the interpretation,

that is to say the meaning, of words in a statute. The reasons vary,

for example words may be ambiguous Fisher v Bell; or broad or

Parliamentary Counsel may have made a drafting error (Inco Europe v

First Choice Distribution); or overtaken by technology (Royal College

of Nursing v Department of Health).

Over the years, the courts have established three rules to resolve

these problems, namely the literal, golden and mischief rules.

The literal rule was developed two hundred years ago and it is based

on the strict constitutional notion of Parliamentary supremacy.

Arguably, an absurd result was achieved in Fisher v Bell (the

flick-knives case) and in L&NER v Berriman, where a railway worker’s

widow was denied compensation on a technicality. However, this line of

reasoning has essentially fallen into disrepute and the courts will go

to great lengths not to achieve absurd results. The modern approach is

to discern the intention or purpose of Parliament - known as the

purposive approach - and the courts will go to great lengths to

construe a statute in line with the supposed intention. That said, the

starting point to interpretation is that judges should, in the words

of Lord Reid, ‘look at the natural and ordinary meaning of that word

or phrase in its context in the statute’ in interpreting same (Pinner

v Everett).

Further, in line with the purposive approach, words in an Act may be

added or omitted to give effect to the intentions of Parliament.

However, there are strict rules which were laid down in Inco Europe.

Here, Lord Nicholls stated that the court must be abundantly sure of

the intended purpose of the statute; that by mistake Parliament failed

to give effect to that purpose; and, crucially, the substance of the

wording that Parliament would have used.
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