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Legal System | Statutory Interpretation

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  • judges may look at other words in the statute to ascertain meaning of specific words
  • can be used in conjunction with all rules
  • guiding principles have evolved, known as rules of language

Ejusdem generis

  • of the same kind
  • used if specific words are followed by general words
  • the general words are limited to things of the same kind

    Powell v Kempton Park Race Course (1899)

    • Betting Act 1853: prohibited the keeping of a house, office, room or other place for betting
    • held list of words indicated that other place should be regarded as an indoor place
    • outdoor ring at a racecourse was held not to fall within terms

    Allen v Emerson [1944]

    • must be at least two specific words in a list before the general word or phrase for rule to operate


  • most commonly used
  • no requirement for the draftsman to write an exhaustive list
  • leaves room for interpretation to adapt and evolve with time
  • can create uncertainty as unpredictable how things will be categorised

    R v Kensington & Chelsea LBC ex p Kihara (1996)

    • four homeless asylum seekers claimed that they were a priority need for housing due to extreme financial hardship
    • Housing Act 1985: gave priority to those who are vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason
    • held that financial hardship could be classed as other special reason despite the statute referring to physical & mental needs

Noscitur a sociis

  • a word is known by the company it keeps
  • words must be read in context

    Pengelley v Bell Punch Ltd [1964]

    • Factories Act 1961: floors, steps, stairs, passageways and gangways had to be kept free from obstruction
    • held list indicated a passage so a floor used exclusively for storage did not fall within the Act

    Bourne v Norwich Crematorium [1967]

    • Stamp J: .. words derive colour from those which surround them...


  • no requirement for the draftsman to write an exhaustive list of everything included (same as Ejusdem Generis)
  • allows judicial development of law which can be criticised as undemocratic

Expressio unius est exclusio alterius

  • the mention of one thing excludes the other
  • if there is a list of words which is not followed by general words
  • the Act will only apply to items in list

    R v Inhabitants of Sedgley (1831)

    • Poor Relief Act 1601: levied taxes on lands, houses and coal mines
    • held could not be levied on other types of mines

    R v SS for Home Department ex p Crew [1982]

    • Immigration Act 1971: definitions section mentioned rights of mother only
    • held to exclude father


  • finite list is provided creates legal certainty
  • judges apply law as explicitly written, upholding separation of powers principle
  • rigid with no scope to include novel or unforeseen situations
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