Statutory Interpretation

The task of judges is mainly to interpret statutory provisions and give effect to the intention of the statute and essence of law. Section 17A of the Interpretation Acts states that in the interpretation of a provision of an Act, a construction that would promote the purpose or object underlying the Act shall be preferred to a construction that would not promote that purpose or object. Professor John Wills in “Nutshell” stated that statutory interpretation should be applied to make people and court satisfy justice. The reasons to interpret statute are mainly due to various meanings in one English word, language used is different in accordance to the changes in society and technical problems in statute.

Literal Rule in statutory interpretation is merely use the ordinary word of English language. The court will take strict view according to actual words in statute that understand by ordinary and natural sense. Sussex defined literal rule as the word best explain the intention of the lawgiver. However, the defects of the literal rule can be seen in PP v Chin Kim Foo, copyright in certain sound recordings were first published in Malaysia on 14 July 1988 and 18 July 1988. Infringement of such copyright occurred on 19 September 1988. It was the defendant’s contention that copyright only subsisted from 1 January 1989 that is the beginning of the calendar year following the year in which the sound recordings were first published. The absurdity in being literal in the case is apparent. The same absurdity illustrate in Fisher v Bell that the shopkeeper was charged under Offensive Weapons Act 1959 because they portrayed flick knives in front of the shop. The court held that the shop is not guilty because this is a unilateral offer-invitation to treat instead of offer to sell in the context of Contract Law. However in R v Judge of the City of London, Lord Esher held that no matter how ambiguous the result may be, he would still use literal rule. In Grey v Pearson held that the word used is given by literal meaning. Salmond stated that literal interpretation should be accepted and applied as a general rule but must be very careful to prevent ambiguity, absurdity and inconsistency.

The golden rule is a modification of literal approach. Lord Brougham stated that the construction of an Act must be taken from the bare word of it. We cannot fish out what possibly may have been the intention of the legislation. In Grey v Pearson, the court held that the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified to avoid absurdity. In Mattison v Hart, the words used ordinary meaning unless absurdity. The words must be modifying to avoid absurdity, the second meaning can be added to suit the circumstances and literal rule still contribute an important role. In Malaysia case Kesultanan Pahang v Sathask Realty, a question raise whether the Sultan of Pahang had the power to lease Sultanate land to a corporate body. The word “person” is limited to mean natural person or can include artificial person(eg corporation). The Federal court overturned the judgement and held that Section 6(1) of the Sultanate Land Enactment 1919 person can include natural person and artificial person. The disadvantage of the golden rule is that parliament expresses its full meaning and no need to imply any additional meaning to the legislation.
Mischief Rule is basically expresses the intention of the Act of Parliament. The parliament will refer to common law before the Act was pass. The Heydon’s case clearly illustrate the court will look at the intention of parliament to pass the act. The judge will interpret the statute based on the aim of Parliament. In Gorris v Scott, a newly enacted statute stated that the animal carried on board ship should kept in pens. However, the defendant had failed to enclose the plaintiff’s sheep in pens, washed overboard during the storm. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim for breach of statutory duty because the Act was passed to prevent the infection from spreading one animal to another. In Hong Leong Equipment v Liew Food Chuan, the interpretation of section 30(3) of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 confers upon the Minister of Labour the discretion whether or not to refer an industrial dispute to the Industrial Court. The main judges Gopal Sri Ram allow the judicial review because the Minister made a decision in a legal sense. The judge had examined the position at common law and the legislative history of the Act approached taken by the Heydon’s case. However the disadvantage of Mischief rule is Parliament not foresee the problem in the future and do not provide a solution as well.

The purposive approach is origins in the mischief rule. This requires judges to seek and promote, the purpose of the legislation to be pass. This purposive approach is influenced by the civil law systems in Continental Europe. Lord Diplock in the Fothergil case stated that this approach could resolve any doubts on the written laws. In Pepper v Hart, Lord Griffiths stated the court adopt strict view using literal mean before. In the recent society the court will use purposive approach to seek the true purpose of legislation by using Hansard. In Syed Mubarak Syed Ahmad v Majlis Peguam Malaysia, the question arises whether an advocate and solicitor may simultaneously practise another profession. The appelland was a practicing public accountant and he apply to bar council for an certificate to practice law but was rejected on the ground that he was disqualified under section 30(1) Legal Profession Act 1967 to practice two profession at the same time. The purpose of the Legal Profession Act is to regulate legal profession and maintain high standards in the profession. The people who choose to be advocates and solicitors must exclusively practice as such and not practice more than one profession.


  1. Thank you..ur informations really helps me in my exam..(^^)~

  2. Golden rule, in the case of Kesultanan Pahang V Sathask Realty, the Federal Court rules that the word 'persons' must be confined to natural persons because if looked in the whole context of the Enactment, the word 'person's is associated with 'malay subjects of the said ruler' and the under s(2), a malay is defines as someone who speaks the Malay language habitually and professes the Muslim religion. Hence, as a corporation, it cannot be "malay" or "subject of the said ruler" since it did not originate from Pahang.

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  5. hi there, are those rules applicable in malaysia? because I'll be having my presentation on this topic very soon, hope you could!

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