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Golden Rule

Interpretation of Contractual Documents, Principles of

Literal Rule


Interpretation of Statutes
Last updated: 06-Oct-2014

Literary approach concentrates on the actual words used and gives them their ordinary dictionary meaning in the absence of any express definition in the Act. As Tindall CJ said in The Sussex Peerage Case in 1844,

If the words of the statute are in themselves precise and unambiguous, then no more can be necessary that to expound those words in their natural and ordinary sense.

Per Lord Herschell in Bank of England v Vagliano Bros. [1891] AC 107, at pp.:144–145:

I think the proper course is in the first instance to examine the language of the statute and to ask what is its natural meaning, uninfluenced by any considerations derived from the previous state of the law, and not to start with inquiring how the law previously stood, and then, assuming that it was probably intended to leave it unaltered, to see if the words of the enactment will bear an interpretation in conformity with this view. If a statute, intended to embody in a code a particular branch of the law, is to be treated in this fashion, it appears to me that its utility will be almost entirely destroyed, and the very object with which it was enacted will be frustrated. The purpose of such a statute surely was that on any point speci?cally dealt with by it, the law should be ascertained by interpreting the language used instead of, as before, by roaming over a vast number of authorities in order to discover what the law was, extracting it by a minute critical examination of the prior decisions.

In Duport Steels Ltd v Sirs [1980] 1 All ER 529 Lord Diplock said, at p.541:

Where the meaning of the statutory words is plain and unambiguous it is not for the judges to invent fancied ambiguities as an excuse for failing to give effect to its plain meaning because they themselves consider that the consequences of doing so would be inexpedient, or even unjust or immoral. In controversial matters such as are involved in industrial relations there is room for differences of opinion as to what is expedient, what is just and what is morally justifiable. Under our Constitution it is Parliament’s opinion on these matters that is paramount.

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