English Legal System - Statutory Interpretation (Part 3)

The European Communities Act 1972

As an example of this power of the Parliament is the Act of 1972 which makes it clear that some of its provisions are to be applied retrospectively

If however the wording of an Act does not make it perfectly clear that the Parliament has decided to against certain presumptions, the courts may assume that the presumptions apply

Indication to how judges feel regarding what kind of weight to presumptions should be attached is given in the case below:-

L’Office Cherifien des Phosphates v Yamashita-Shinnihon Steamship Co Ltd [1994] 1 AC 486

Case which concerned the presumption against retrospective effect and in which the House of Lords stated that ‘simple fairness’ was the important issue, thus if reading the relevant statute as imposing the suggested degree of retrospective effect, the result be so unfair that the Parliament could not have intended such regardless that the words may have suggested retrospective effect. This could be judged by balancing a number of factors such as the rights affected, the clarity of words used as well as the background of the legislation.

It is unclear how conflicting presumptions are weighed and why certain values are selected for protection by presumptions and others are not

External aids

Historical setting – consideration may be given by a judge to the historical setting of the legislation, which may be done by citing earlier cases or even legal textbooks

Dictionaries – to find a meaning of a word

Textbooks – to read views of legal academics

Reports – official reports may be considered as evidence (reports by the Royal Commission, the Law Commission or other official advisory committee)

Black-Clawson International Ltd v Papierwerke Waldhof-Aschaffenburgh A.G. [1975] AC 591
In this case the House of Lords laid down the principle that official reports which lead to legislation could be consulted in the construction of the disputed words under consideration. Lord Diplock thought such reports may be used to understand ambiguous phrase so as to give effect to Parliament’s aim.

Treaties – international conventions and treaties may be considered as long as the Parliament does not legislate in a way which is in breach of the its international obligations

Salomon v Commissioners of Customs and Excise [1967] 2 QB 116

The case in which the Court of Appeal took the view that it was entitled to resolve ambiguities and obscurities by looking at a 1950 international convention, regardless that the 1952 Act did not refer to it, because English law should be interpreted by such a way that it remains constant with international law. Lord Denning, and Lord Justices Diplock and Russell all agreed that as the terms of the statute and that of the convention were virtually identical, the statute was intended to embody the convention.

Previous Practice – general usage and practise in the particular field the legislation concerns may be looked at when determining its meaning

The Human Rights Act 1998 – “So far as it is possible to do so, primary and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights.”

Hansard – official daily report of the parliamentary debates which therefore also records the introduction of legislation. For over 100 years it was held by the judiciary that such documents as the Hansard could not be used for statutory interpretation, rule which was overturned in the following:-

Pepper v Hart [1993] 1 All ER 42

The case was a tax case concerning nine school masters of a public school, Malvern College, who were assessed to tax by the Inland Revenue regarding the benefits they enjoyed because their sons were educated at the school for one fifth of the ordinary fees. Reason why the issue of consulting parliamentary debates arose from the fact that during the passing of the Finance Act laying down the tax rules regarding the matter, the then Secretary to the Treasury Robert Sheldon specifically had mentioned that purpose of the relevant statutory provision was to tax concessionary education for teachers’ children on the marginal cost to the employer and not on the average cost of the benefit. The House of Lords decided that Hansard may be consulted in order to see what has been said by a Minister and from which the intention of the Parliament may be derived.

Three Rivers District Council v Bank of England [1996] 2 All ER 363

This case concerned the correct interpretation of legislation fulfilling obligations under an EC directive and it confirmed the decision in Pepper v Hart. There was no ambiguity as to the legislation itself, but the claimant argued that if Hansard was used to aid the interpretation, there would be certain duties imposed by this legislation upon the defendants, otherwise not obvious from the legislation. The case stated that Hansard may be consulted to bring light on the general purpose of legislation.

R v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, ex Parte Spath Holme Ltd [2001] 2 AC 349

This case gave a restrictive interpretation to the application of Pepper v Hart as it was pointed out that Pepper v Hart was concerned with the meaning of an expression used in a statute and the present case in contrast was concerned with matter of policy and in particular with a meaning of a statutory power rather than a statutory expression thus only if a Minister were to give a categorical assurance to Parliament that a power would not be used in a given situation would a parliamentary statement on the scope of a power be admissible.

Wilson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry [2003]

In this case the House of Lords gave again a restrictive interpretation to Pepper v Hart by holding that only statements in Hansard made by a Minister or other person promoting legislation could be looked at by the court in interpreting statutes and other statements recorded by it should be ignored and the court emphasised that courts should not stray into Parliament’s constitutional role and should respect the rule of separation of powers.
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