English Legal System - Statutory Interpretation (Part 4)

Interpreting European Legislation

The Treaty of Rome Art. 234 states that the European Court is the supreme tribunal for the interpretation of EU law

S. 3(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 states that the question as to the validity, meaning or effect of European legislation are to be decided in accordance with the principles laid down by the European Court

Therefore when interpreting EU law, the English courts should take the same approach as the European Court would

Bulmer v Bollinger [1974]

“No longer must they examine the words in meticulous detail. No longer must they argue about the precise grammatical sense. They must look to the purpose or intent. To quote the words of the European Court in the Da Costa case they must deduce from the wording and the spirit of the Treaty the meaning of the Community rules… They must divide the spirit of the Treaty and gain inspiration from it. If they find a gap, they must fill it as best they can. They must do what the framers of the instrument would have done if they had thought about it. So we must do the same.”

It was meant that the courts should use the Mischief rule broadly, rather than the literal approach

If in doubt, the matter may/must be referred to the European Court of Justice

Conclusion to Interpreting Statutes

As a rough guide on how a problem of interpreting statutes may be approached see the following:

Read the Section(s) carefully, referring to:-
Related sections in the Act
Interpretation Sections
Related statutes

Understand the mischief statute trying to remedy:-
Refer to annotations of the Act
Refer to Law Commission Reports
Refer to economical, social and political background
Use Hansard
Look at the long title of the Act

Check for any European derivation, and if operative, the effects of the Human Rights Act 1998

Conduct a research into academic texts:-
Articles and case notes

Research existing or related case law

Be aware of any technical meanings of the words in question

Be aware of technical rules of grammar

Be aware of judicial trends in methods of interpretation

Be aware from which perspective you are viewing the problem

Adopt the appropriate style of argument

Decide how to marshal your authorities in order to substantiate your approach

Decide how you can distinguish unhelpful authority
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