The English legal provides many ways in which to guide judges in deciding cases. It also provides many mechanisms in correcting disputed decisions. The judges have statutes, by laws- and statutory mechanisms to aid them in deciding the outcomes for cases. This also implies for deciding disputed decisions. Furthermore the uniqueness of some cases will also be taken into account, in deciding the outcomes of the cases. A statute is a lawful act of parliament, passed on by a legislative body.
However how a judge or court interprets them is not only important for the out come of a case but it is necessary for the judge to interpret the true meaning of the statute. Therefore in order to interpret these acts, judges have available to them two forms of statutory interpretation. These are known as the general rules of interpretation and the statutory aids. Statutory aids define the meaning of words used in a particular act. However using the general rules of interpretation, there is more variety in the way in which an act can be interpreted.
These general rules are, the literal rule, golden rule mischief rule, noscitar a sociis, expressio unius est exclusio alterius and the ejususderm generis rule. We will begin with looking at the literal rule. The literal rule is used to give the words their ordinary meaning. Even though this might lead to incorrect decisions, however it is still used. This is evident in Lord Esher’s statement: “if the words of an Act are clear, you must follow them even though they lead to a manifest absurdity. The court has nothing to do with the question whether the legislative has committed an obsurdity.
“Moreover this is not always the case, Lord Denning argued: “….. the judges can and should use their good sense to remedy it (by reading words in, if necessary) so as to do with the parliament would have done had they had the situation in mind. “2 Although it has the disadvantage of leading to unjust results, it however has the advantage of safeguarding the sovereignty of the parliament, and it also reduces of bias of judges. Moving on, the golden rule however is a modification of the literal rule, this rule allows the judges to avoid the absurdity that arises from the literal rule.
Where the meaning may then be modified to avoid any absurdity. This is emphasised by Lord Wensleydale: “…. 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 maybe be modified, so as to avoid the absurdity and inconsistency but no further. ” However, the golden rule has been seen as being very similar to the literal rule, as Viscount Simon states:
The golden rule is that the words of a statute must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning. “3 In contrast to the two previous rules, the mischief rule looks at not only the words of the statute but also the reason for which the parliament created the statute. Here the judges have to consider four matters. To begin with they had to look at, what the law was before the statute was passed. Secondly, the mischief the common law did not provide. The third matter, was to see what remedy the parliament was providing. The fourth and final was, the actual reason for the remedy.
Therefore this enables the judges to consider the purpose of the statute and to apply the words in that context. The noscitur a sociis rule looks at interpreting the word from its context. Moving on to the expressio unius exclusio rule. We learn that this rule is implied when the mention of one thing excludes another. This finally brings us to the ejusdem generis rule. This is used when particular words are followed by general words. However the latter have to be given a similar meaning to the particular words. Furthermore the use of Hansard is now available, so as to avoid any absurdity or incorrect decision.
Lord Browne-Wilkinson argued: “…. such other parliamentary material as is necessary to understand such statements and their effect; (c) the statements relied on are clear. 4 However there is also another important part of the English legal system, which is that most of the major rules and principles of the common law, have been developed, and extended by the courts, when reviewing disputed cases. Furthermore it is argued that judges do not make law, as they are merely applying rules that have been used before them in previous cases.
However it can be argued that this is rather weak as it Lord Radcliff states otherwise: “judicial law is always a reinterpretation of principles in the light of new combinations of facts… true, judges do not reverse principles, once well established, but they do modify them, extend them, restrict them or even deny their applicability to the combination in hand. “5 However it is known that the actual enactment of a new law is mostly left to the parliament. Moreover the court should have a regard for the doctrine of the precedent, or also known as the ‘stare decisis’.
This mechanism allows the court to follow past decisions, in using steps and the outcomes of similar cases from the past, for the present case in question. There have been many reasons for the use of the doctrine. Firstly, it assures that time is not wasted in going through the same procedures, for like cases. Secondly the judges themselves have before them possible solutions. Furthermore judges can easily find the relevant principles applying in a particular case. Moreover as the decisions are already made by judges, this allows the present judge to overrule a certain decision, which maybe unfair or irrelevant to the particular case.