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Legal System | Statutory Interpretation

Literal Rule: Evaluation

Model Answer | A Level

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Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the operation of the literal rule

The literal rule applies the law as Parliament has explicitly written it and therefore upholds the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty. It can be seen as democratic by directly following Parliament's word rather than those of unelected judges.

Use of the literal rule highlights laws that need revising and laws that have been inadequately drafted. For example in Partridge v Crittenden, a case where protected birds were for sale but a loophole in contract law meant the defendant was found not guilty (as in Fisher v Bell). In reaction to the unfair results of these cases Parliament introduced a new contract law.

Literal rule creates certainty as by reading a law it is easier to determine the meaning and so reduces litigation. The Law Commission's Report on Interpretation of Statutes (1969) noted the rule encourages precision in drafting.

However, the literal rule can lead to absurdities (Whitley v Chappell), loopholes and injustices (Fisher v Bell Partridge v Crittenden ). The rule fails to recognise the English language is ambiguous and ignores the limitations of drafting, a point made by the Law Commission in their 1969 Report.

The rule can be criticised for its rigidity especially in relation to the issue of technological advances since the introduction of the Act. It means there is a need for Parliament to rectify any errors which can be costly and time consuming even when the meaning may be clear already.

The rule itself assumes Parliament intended for a literal reading of the Act. It also sometimes requires use of another rule or aid to interpretation such as a dictionary or punctuation so is not simply a literal reading.

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