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English Law and Application of Statutory Legislation


Interpretation and application of the law is very critical in determining how effective a judicial system is. The judicial principles of statutory interpretation have a unique engagement with the interpretive powers that courts possess (Keenan, 2007). Lack of clear guidelines to control how courts interpret judicial principles is a recipe for chaos within the entire judiciary and may hinder fair administration of justice. Experts in constitutional law recommend that judges and magistrates should be provided with clear guidelines to govern their interpretation of laws in order to avoid a conflict of interests (Keenan, 2007). There have been cases where judges have found it difficult to interpret certain laws because they are not aware of their interpretive powers. This paper will discuss the principle powers available to English courts and how they govern interpretation and application of statutory legislation.

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English courts have powers to enforce certain laws depending on the provisions within the law. The courts have the power to impose fines and jail sentences as provided for in the English law. Both crown and magistrate courts have powers to impose penalties and sentences depending on the case at hand (Smith, 1966). Magistrate courts have the power to stop separate penalties if the initial sentence is satisfactory. The courts have the power to order the defendant to compensate for any injury, loss or damage caused by the defendant. In case the court does not order for compensation, it is mandatory that it explains the reasons for arriving at that decision (Smith, 1966). The amount of compensation that a crown court can order for a particular case is limitless whereas magistrate courts can only handle compensation cases of five thousand pounds and below.

The compensation order takes the first priority in cases where the defendant is supposed to pay both the fine and compensation and does not have adequate means to pay for both. It is important to note that English courts have the power to impose both a fine and a compensation order at the same time (Hill, 2009). The compensation can be paid to the family of the bereaved incase the offense caused by the defendant led to the death of the plaintiff. Despite having the power to order for compensation, the courts have a responsibility to ensure that the amount of compensation is very considerate of the defendant’s means. The victim’s personal statement and presentations from the prosecutor are very essential in helping courts come up with appropriate compensation orders. In English courts, the award of compensation can not in any way be stopped by a civil claim that may be pending in court (Slapper, 2009).

The powers to sentence offenders to a community sentence are contained in the criminal justice act of 2003 of the English law. All offenders who are above the age of 16 can be given a community sentence if the magnitude of the offences committed has the threshold to warrant a community sentence. The restrictions imposed on the convicted offender depend on how serious the offense is (Hill, 2009). English courts have powers to disqualify defendants who have committed indictable offences. The court can give disqualification orders against company employees contravening company rules and code of conduct. A disqualification order may be given by courts in case of fraud or any form of mismanagement (Slapper, 2009). Crown courts can give a disqualification order of up to 15 years whereas magistrate courts have a five year limit. The other powers that English courts enjoy include the power to order for remedial actions as well as the power to give publicity orders (Caenegem, 1988).

Criminal and civil cases are handled by different courts according to their jurisdiction. It is therefore very important to understand the structure of English courts in order to understand how the principle powers of English courts engage with application and interpretation of the law. In England, there is a clear distinction between criminal and civil courts (Hill, 2009). The local magistrate’s courts handles summary offenses that are basically minor criminal cases. The cases in magistrate courts are presided over by a panel of lay magistrates with one district judge who is trained. The youth courts and family proceedings courts are housed within the magistrates’ courts. The district judge or clerk is legally trained and play a major role in assisting the lay magistrates’ panel to decide on major rulings. Indictable offences are normally referred to crown courts for hearing (Hill, 2009).

In crown courts, the indictable offences referred from magistrate courts are heard and by the jury. Some cases fall in the middle category and in such scenarios, the hearing can take place in either of the courts. The crown courts judges are the only judges with the power to give a verdict on severe cases. The magistrate’s court can reach a verdict but the sentencing part is passed to the crown courts. The total number of crown courts in England and Wales is almost 78 (Hill, 2009). County courts mostly handle civil cases and are almost 218 in number. Apart from handling civil cases, county courts also handle bankruptcy and family cases. The value of the claim is a major determinant of how a particular case is handled in county courts (Smith, 1966).

County courts ensure that the time and cost spent on a particular case is equivalent to the value of the claim. The Royal court of Justice which is based in London hosts the high court and has got three divisions (Lawson, 1988). The first division of the high court handles tax, bankruptcy and equity related cases. The second division is the Queens’s Bench Division that which handles most commercial cases such as contact and other tort cases. The third and final division is the family division that handles cases related to divorce and children. Appeals from county ad magistrates’ courts are heard in the Divisional court. The Royal Courts of Justice also hosts the court of appeal. The court of appeal has got both civil and criminal divisions that handle appeals cases from tribunals, High Courts and Crown Courts. All appeals from British countries are handled by the Appellate committee of the House of Lords. The Privy Council handles appeals from Commonwealth countries (Maitland, 2004).

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Statutory interpretation of the law is very essential in the application of laws within a country. Cases involving statutes are very technical and therefore some amount of statutory interpretation must be done by courts in order for them to administer justice in a fair manner (Slapper, 2009). Some statutes have ambiguous and vague words which have to be resolved by judges. There are various rules and methods that govern statutory interpretation in all judicial systems across the world. Legislative enactments and regulations on administrative agency have some ambiguity that requires the courts to apply the rules of interpretation on some aspects.

Just like other laws across the world, the English law is not entirely plain and straightforward and therefore the same law provides rules to govern statutory interpretation by courts (Hill, 2009). There are various statements of the legislature such as the policy of intent and sense of Congress that have provisions that normally assist judges in interpreting the law. The canons of constructions guide the judges in interpreting statutes and at the same time prevent judges from bench legislation. Textual canons contain rules that help courts to fully understand the meaning of words. The plain meaning rule allows courts to interpret and enforce statues according to the language in which they are farmed (Hill, 2009). Courts are instructed to consider interpretations that foster certain policy results by corresponding structures. The rule of lenity lies in the basis of the following decision of the court that interprets criminal statutes in favor of the defendant.

The difference canons allow the courts to differ with interpretations from other administrative agencies. This category of canons removes the full burden of constitutional responsibility from the judiciary (Lawson, 1988). The clear statement rule prevents courts from making interpretations that might change a particular policy. The Golden rule states that the words of a particular statute must retain their ordinary meaning during their interpretation by courts. In a case where a particular word has more than one meaning, the golden rule gives judges the freedom to use a preferred meaning (Lawson, 1988). Homographs can contribute to bad decisions by judges because there is a probability that they might give a different meaning to a word (Maitland, 2004).

The golden rule emphasizes that the ordinary meaning of a word must be maintained at all times during statutory interpretations. The mischief rule has been operational in English courts since its enactment in the 16th century (Slapper, 2009). The judges apply the mischief rule in attempt to discover what the legislative assembly meant to address during the legislation or amendment of a particular statute. During the process of reviewing a particular law, the court tries to find out particular areas that a previous law did not address (Slapper, 2009). The intention of parliament while passing a particular law forms the basis of how that particular statute is interpreted. The main limitation of the mischief rule is that it can only be used to interpret statutes that are meant to amend the common law. The judges have more discretion in the mischief rule compared to the rules that govern statutory interpretation (Lawson, 1988).


In conclusion, the ambiguity in some laws requires rules that can help courts in the interpretation and application of statutory legislations. Courts are supposed to follow these rules in order to give just rulings. The structure of English courts is well delegated and spread to ensure that al citizens access judicial services wherever they are. The courts have powers to pass sentences and order for compensation in case there is any injury, damage or loss caused by the defendant. The jurisdiction of all the courts is clearly defined right from the top to the bottom. The golden and mischief rules are the most common statutory interpretation rules in England. It is therefore very important for a judicial system to have rules and provisions that govern the interpretation and application of legislations.


Caenegem, R., 1988.The birth of the English common law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, G., 2009. Nolo’s plain English law dictionary. London: Nolo.

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Keenan, D., 2007. Smith and Keenan’s English law. London: Longman.

Lawson, F., 1988. The rational strength of English law. London: Wm S. Hein Publishing.

Maitland, F., 2004. English law and the renaissance. London: Kessinger Publishing.

Slapper, G., 2009. English law. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Smith, K., 1966. English law. London: Pitman.

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