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The most comprehensive coverage on the construction of Statutes. It includes parts of statutes,Extrinsic-Aids,Intrinsic aids, Reading down, Amendments,Repeals,codifications,Quasi-Judicial agencies,Non-obstante clause,Mandatory/Declatory provisions,Tax ,Beneficial, Criminal,Fiscal Statute's Interpretation and sub-ordinate legislations.Besides it contains the Rules of Interpretation and the Role of Judiciary.Citations are in abundance.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Literal Rule of Construction

Meaning :The meaning of the rule is clear from its language. The words are to be interpreted in the literal fashion irrespective of the consequences. This rule stated that the words of a statute must be given their ordinary meaning, no matter what the result.  This also showed the attitude of the judiciary to their role vis a vis Parliament, as Tindal C.J. said in the Sussex Peerage Claim [(1844) 11 Cl & Fin 85, 143.]

When words are clear: “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 that natural and ordinary sense [Applied in Cheung Chun-man [1957] HKLR 500, 503.]  The words themselves alone do, in such cases, best declare the intention of the lawgiver”.

Follow the words that are clear :Some of the Courts took an extreme interpretation of the literal rule, which had almost an “Alice in Wonderland” quality to it.  Lord Esher M.R. in R v The Judge of the City of London Court [[1892] 1 QB 273 9 CA.] stated “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 Legislature has committed an absurdity.”  This view was reinforced in Vacher & Sons Ltd v London Society of Compositors,[ [1913] AC 107, 121-2.]where Lord Atkinson said

“If the language of a statute be plain, admitting of only one meaning, the Legislature must be taken to have meant and intended what it has plainly expressed, and whatever it has in clear terms enacted must be enforced though it should lead to absurd or mischievous results.  If the language of this sub-section be not controlled by some of the other provisions of the statute, it must, since its language is plain and unambiguous, be enforced, and your Lordship's House sitting judicially is not concerned with the question whether the policy it embodies is wise or unwise, or whether it leads to consequences just or unjust, beneficial or mischievous.”

Thus Words must be given their plain, ordinary and literal meaning. If the words are clear, they must be applied, even tough the intention of the legislator may have been different or the result is harsh or undesirable. An explanation of the rule was given in the sussex peerage case.[ Sussex peerage case(1844) 1 c1 &fin 85]

The primary rule in construing a section of any statute is that the Court must interpret the Statute in accordance with the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used in it.
Undoubtedly, legislative drafting and statutory interpretation are activities which have been deeply marked by their historical origins. The history of statute law-making and the manner in which it was received by the courts demonstrate that statute law, a rarity until the mid-nineteenth century, was seen as an incursion, if not an assault, upon `our lady the common law'. One illustration of this attitude was the so-called `mischief' rule (which developed in the 16th Century) which assumed that statute law would only be called into play to rectify some error which had occurred in the development of the common law.[ Cross, Statutory Interpretation , (3rd ed., Butterworths, 1995) 11-12, traces the history of the mischief rule back to Heydon's case in 1584.] Another was the `golden' rule, which applied in situations in which a literal approach  would lead to an absurd meaning. In other words, the normal approach was to give words in a statute their ordinary meaning, except where that would produce an inconsistency or an absurdity.
Two Principles of the Rule:This "rule" can  be divided into two principles: 
(a) the principle that requires that the words of a provision be interpreted in their grammatical and ordinary sense, and 
(b) the principle that the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words be followed unless it leads to an absurdity, repugnancy or inconsistency.[581Grey v. Pearson (1857), 6 H.L.C. 60 at 104. ]
Under this approach, words must be given the meaning ascribed to them in ordinary parlance. They must be given the meaning they had on the day of enactment; no additions should be made to the terms of the statute, and the effects of those terms should not be attenuated. [Vachon v. CEIC, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 417]
Plain Meaning and Literal Rule Synonym:The Plain meaning rule is also known as the literal rule, is a type of  construction which dictates that statutes are to be interpreted using the ordinary meaning of the language of the statute. According to the this  rule, words must be given their plain, ordinary and literal meaning. If the words are clear, they must be applied, even though the intention of the legislator may have been different or the result is harsh or undesirable.[ Prof. Larry Solum's expands on this premise[ Legal Theory Lexicon] “Some laws are meant for all citizens (e.g., criminal statutes) and some are meant only for specialists (e.g., some sections of the tax code). A text that means one thing in a legal context, might mean something else if it were in a technical manual or a novel. So the plain meaning of a legal text is something like the meaning that would be understood by competent speakers of the natural language in which the text was written who are within the intended readership of the text and who understand that the text is a legal text of a certain type.”]

The Literal Rule applies words of a statute in their natural and ordinary sense  with nothing added and nothing taken away, even if an inexpedient, unjust or immoral outcome occurs, i.e. the court can neither extend the statute to a casus omissus [an omitted case which should have been, but has not been, provided for in the statute] nor curtail it by leaving out a casus male inclusus [a case that the statute literally includes, though it should not have].

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