However, the literal rule seems to assume what is obviously open to question, that words are always clear. Then, of course, the literal rule can be applied: "If the language of the statute be plain, admitting of only one meaning, the legislature must be taken to have meant and intended what it has plainly expressed"
The literal rule means the interpretation of Acts purely according to their literal meaning; it has fallen out of favour since the 19th Century. It is, unsurprisingly, the first approach that will be taken. It means following the literal, ordinary or natural meaning of words.
Literal Approach: -effect is given to the "plain meaning" of the words (subject to certain "prima facie presumptions" to be considered later) even if the result would be absurd or contrary to the spirit of the legislation.
Like the formalization of precedent in the nineteenth century, this approach took root at the same time. Thus, Lord Tenterten C.J. incould not:
"forbear observing that ... there is always danger in giving effect to what is called the equity of a statute, and that it is much better and safer to rely on and abide by the plain words, although the Legislature might possibly have provided for other cases had their attention been directed to them."
The case which is often cited as an authority for this approach is the where Chief Justice Tindal said:
"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 Literal Approach, or what is often called the Plain Meaning Approach, involves two stages. First of all, if the words in their immediate context (the actual section or subsection in question, or some would say, after reading the whole text) are found to be "plain" or "clear", you apply this meaning to the situation in question, without reference to purposes of the legislation or consequences of doing so. The second stage, if necessary, is that if the words are not "plain" or "clear", you must now interpret them using limited textual techniques of ascertaining legislative meaning and purpose.