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Interpretation, Rules and Principles of Statutory


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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 rule ejusdem generis (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.(7) The rule in pari materia (on the like matter): when a prior Act is found to be “on the like matter” it can be used as an aid in construing the statute in question (R v Loxdale (1758) 1 Burr 445, 447 (Lord Mansfield); 97 ER 394).(8) The rule noscitur a sociis (known by its associates): when a word or phrase is of uncertain meaning, it should be construed in the light of the surrounding words (Bourne v Norwich Crematorium Ltd [1967] 2 All ER 576 (Ch) 578).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 (Pepper v Hart [1993] AC 593 (HL). However, 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.

(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 rule ejusdem generis (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).

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Subjects: Law.


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