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6.4 The mischief rule

This third rule gives a judge more discretion than either the literal or the golden rule. This rule requires the court to look to what the law was before the statute was passed in order to discover what gap or mischief the statute was intended to cover. The court is then required to interpret the statute in such a way to ensure that the gap is covered. The rule is contained in Heydon's Case (1584), where it was said that for the true interpretation of a statute, four things have to be
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6.3 The golden rule

This rule is a modification of the literal rule. It states that if the literal rule produces an absurdity, then the court should look for another meaning of the words to avoid that absurd result. The rule was closely defined by Lord Wensleydale in Grey v Pearson (1857) HL Cas 61, who stated:

The grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to unless that would lead to some absurdity or some r
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6.2 The literal rule

Under this rule the judge considers what the statute actually says, rather than what it might mean. In order to achieve this, the judge will give the words in the statute a literal meaning, that is, their plain ordinary everyday meaning, even if the effect of this is to produce what might be considered as an otherwise unjust or undesirable outcome. The literal rule says that the intention of Parliament is best found in the ordinary and natural meaning of the words used. As the legislative dem
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6.1 Introduction

In this part we will explore the number of rules developed by the courts to assist with the interpretation of a statute. These are:

  • the literal rule

  • the golden rule

  • the mischief rule

  • the purposive approach.

These rules each take different approaches to interpretation of a statute. Some judges prefer one rule, while other judges prefer another. Some judges also feel that their role is
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5.2 Summary of Part D

Part D explored several of the reasons which may result in a word or phrase in an Act of Parliament having an unclear meaning. This was illustrated by a number of examples. Interpretation of those words or phrases becomes a task for the courts. In this role, it can be argued that the courts are involved in the law-making process as they have been required to interpret and define a statute.

5.1 Reasons for unclear meaning

The meaning of law in a statute should be clear and explicit, but this is not always achieved. Thus, many of the cases which come before the courts concern a dispute over the meaning of a word or phrase in a statute. In those cases the task of the court is to decide the exact meaning of that particular word or phrase. There are a number of factors which can lead to an unclear meaning.

  • A broad term – There may be words designed to cover sever
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4.4 Summary of Part C

In Part C you have learnt that:

  • accurate law reporting allows for legal principles to be collated, identified and accessed;

  • there are many sources of law reports: Year Books (1275–1535), private reports (1535–1865), modern reports (1865 to present), the Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports, All England Law Reports, legal periodicals and newspapers, European Community Reports, DVD-ROMs and legal databases available via the internet.


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4.3 Summary of accurate law reporting

This section stressed the importance of accurate law reporting which allows for legal principles to be collated, identified and accessed. I examined where you might locate case reports on particular areas of the law. These are:

  • Year Books (1275–1535)

  • Private reports (1535–1865)

  • Modern reports (1865 to present)

  • The Law Reports

  • Weekly Law Reports (citation WLR)

  • All
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4.2.11 Neutral citation

In line with the ongoing modernisation of the whole legal system, the way in which cases are to be cited has been changed. Since January 2001 a new neutral system was introduced, and cases in the various courts are now cited as follows (‘EW’ means England and Wales):

House of Lords [year] UKHL case no.
Court of Appeal
Court of Ap
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4.2.10 DVD-ROMs and internet facilities

As in most other fields, the growth of information technology has revolutionised law reporting and law finding. Many of the law reports mentioned above are available both on DVD-ROM and via the internet through legal databases such as Justis, Lawtel, Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw UK. Many such databases, however, require you to complete a registration process and there may be a charge for the service. Altrnatively they may be available, for free, to registered university or college students studyin
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4.2.9 European Community reports

Although European cases may appear in the reports considered above, there are two specialist reports relating to EU cases.

  • European Court Reports (ECR)

    These are the official reports produced by the European Court of Justice. As such, they are produced in all the official languages of the Community and consequently suffer from delay in reporting.

  • Common Market Law Reports (CMLR)

    These are unofficial reports published wee
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4.2.8 Specialist reports

There are a number of specialist reports. Indeed, there are more than can be mentioned here, but amongst the most important are:

Industrial Relations Law Review (IRLR)
Knight's Local Government Reports (LGR)
Lloyd's Law Reports (Lloyd's Rep.)
Report on Tax Cases (TC or Tax Cas)
Family Law
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4.2.7 Legal periodicals and newspapers

The Solicitors’ Journal (Sol Jo or SJ) has been reporting cases since 1856 and some cases are only to be found in its reports. In such circumstances, the reports may be cited in court. The same is also true for cases reported in other journals, such as the New Law Journal (NLJ) or the other specialist legal journals.

Figure 6
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4.2.6 All England Law Reports (citation All ER)

These reports are produced by the legal publishers Butterworth's and, although they do enjoy judicial revision, they do not contain counsels’ arguments. They are published weekly and are then collated annually in volumes.

4.2.5 Weekly Law Reports (citation WLR)

These have also been published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting since 1953 and, although they are not reports of cases decided in the current week as the name might suggest, they are produced much more quickly than the Law Reports. The need for speed means that these reports do not contain counsels' arguments, nor do they enjoy the benefit of judicial correction before printing. There are four volumes of reported cases, the latter two containing the cases that will also appear in
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4.2.4 The Law Reports

These are the case reports produced by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales. They have the distinct advantage of containing summaries of counsels’ arguments and, perhaps even more importantly, they are subject to revision by the judges in the case before they are published. Not surprisingly, the Law Reports are seen as the most authoritative of reports and it is usual for them to be cited in court cases in preference to any other report.

The current series o
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4.2.3 Modern reports (1865 to present)

As you have seen, the private reports were not without their problems. In addition to, at least occasional, inaccuracy, their publication could be both slow and expensive. This situation was at last remedied by the establishment of the Council for Law Reporting in 1865, subsequently registered as a corporate body in 1870 under the name of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales. The council was established under the auspices of the Inns of Court and the Law Society wit
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4.2.2 Private reports (1535–1865)

These reports bear the name they do because they were produced by private individuals and are cited by the name of the person who collected them. They were, however, published commercially for public reference. An ongoing problem with the private reports relates to their accuracy. At best, it can be said that some were better, that is, more accurate, than others. Of particular importance among the earlier reports were those of Plowden, Coke and Burrows, but there are many other reports that a
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4.2.1 Year Books (1275–1535)

The earliest reports of particular cases appeared between 1275 and 1535 in what are known as the Year Books. These reports are really of historical interest as they were originally written in a language known as Law French. As with the common law generally, the focus was on procedural matters and forms of pleading. Those who are engaged in the study of legal history will find the most important cases translated and collected together in the Seldon Society series or the Rolls series but, in th
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3.2 The hierarchy of the courts

A court hierarchy establishes which decisions are binding on which courts. There are some exceptions and complications to what follows but, in general and for most purposes, the higher up a court is in the hierarchy, the more authoritative its decisions. I mean ‘authoritative’ in the sense that decisions of the higher courts will bind lower courts to apply the same decided principle.

Activity 5 asks you to explore the court structure further.

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