Rules of construction are beneficial for the judiciary in interpreting ambiguous statutes. The flexible nature of the uncoded common law system allows for multiple interpretations of the Acts which enables legal development with evolving social attitudes. Likewise, it enables statutes to be applied to case facts, rather than adhering to strict codes. Furthermore, statues are often rushed through a strained Parliamentary system which empowers judges to ‘finalise’ the application of legislation based on their own informed elucidation.
The literal rule advises judges to take the standard, literal meaning of words to determine their intent; this is followed even where the resulting outcome is neither fair nor relevant, as seen in London & North Eastern Railway Co v Berriman.The golden rule is similar to the literal rule in taking the standard meaning of a word, but only so far as to not produce an inane result, whether due to case facts (Adler v George) or public policy (Re Sigsworth). The mischief rule entails the understanding of the harm that Parliament aimed to address in creating the Act, and applying it based on this, as used in the case of Corkery v Carpenter. This allows the judiciary to ‘mold’ legislation based on case facts and allows evolution of the legal system.
The final rule is the purposive approach. Similar to the mischief rule, but with one predominant distinction; looking forward to ascertain Parliamentary intention for the statute. The use of this rule is becoming ever more popular within the judiciary due to its ability to effectively apply both common UK law and civil EU law, ‘reading around’ a statute to ensure proper implementation.In his application of the Act, Lord Sahni used the literal rule to establish that the defendant was ‘not nude in the literal sense of the word’.
He goes on to examine whether the defendant had offended public decency to determine guilt and, in considering ‘the reason for enacting’ the Act, used the mischief rule to ascertain Parliamentary intention. He concluded by returning to the literal rule to determine the meaning of ‘overt’, by seeking aid in the Oxford English Dictionary.