Describe the internal or intrinsic aids available to a judge to assist with statutory interpretation

It should be noted that there are two different types of aid available to the judge. They are usually described as either external (extrinsic) aids or internal (intrinsic) aids.

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It should be noted that there are two different types of aid available to the judge.  They are usually described as either external or extrinsic aids or internal or intrinsic aids. External aids are those aids which are not found within the statute. Internal or intrinsic aids are those aids which form part of the act. We are concerned with internal or intrinsic aids, and these will be outlined and described in turn.

Internal aids consist of the long and the short title, the preamble, interpretation clauses, schedules and marginal notes and headings.

Judges are essentially trying to find some insight as to the meaning of the Act.  They are looking for help and the long title can, at times, be helpful.  A good example is the Law of Property Act 1925.  The long title of the Act states that it is An act to consolidate the enactments relating to Conveyancing and The Law of Property in England and Wales’.  This may be useful to the judge in that it says that the Act is intended to consolidate.  A consolidation act brings the law together.  One of the main purposes is to make the law easier to find.  This can bring about important practical benefits for practitioners and professionals advising and working in that particular area of the law.  Such practical benefits might include accessibility and consequential money and time saving as it takes longer to look up and assimilate the law if it cannot be found in one Act but is found in more than one Act.

The long title mentions the enactments relating to….’ this may also be useful as it gives the judge a strong clue that it may be useful and relevant to see how the meaning of words have been interpreted and applied in other enactments for the sake of consistency.  The long title also makes it clear that the act is only concerned with the law in England and Wales.

The short title, on the other hand, The Law of Property Act 1925’ is less helpful.  This is not necessarily intentional on the part of parliamentary counsel or parliament itself.  It is simply the case that the short title is brief for practical reasons as it is the short title that will be commonly used as the long title is too long.  The short title being shorter gives less away in terms of information.  The Law of Property Act 1925 seems to tell us that it is about the law of property but this in itself is too general to be of much help in the context of interpretation.

The preamble is set out at beginning of the act after the short and long titles.  They amount to an introduction or explanation about the purpose or mischief behind the act.  They also vary considerably but older statutes tended to contain preambles of some length whereas modern statutes either do not have them or contain only a very brief preamble, and are therefore of limited help.  In these instances the long title may be of more use.  An example of a modern statute having a more useful long title than preamble is the Theft Act 1968.


It is perhaps fair to say that clues as to the purpose of the act are becoming more important with the increasing popularity and use of the purposive approach which is probably the broadest of approaches to statutory interpretation.


It is common for modern statutes to contain interpretation clauses within the act.  Interpretation clauses set out in some detail the meanings of various key words and terms used elsewhere in the act.  Parliamentary counsel are trying to be helpful and constructive by anticipating that the meanings of these words and terms will need to be defined.  This does not mean that clauses are easy to read or follow by the lay person as they are often very technical and lengthy and difficult to follow but in expert hands they can be invaluable.  A good example would be what amounts to 'development' for which planning permission must be sought under the Town and Country Planning Acts.

Sometimes an act will include schedules which provide additional information and detail which applies elsewhere in the act.  The main clauses set out the main provisions of the law, whilst schedules contain specific information which needs to be read in conjunction with the main provisions.

There are marginal notes and headings and these are inserted by parliamentary counsel at the printing stage and are intended as a useful aid to interpretation.  However what matters is the actual wording of the statute and if there is a conflict between the actual wording and the heading or marginal note, then the wording of the act takes precedence and should be adhered to.

Then there are the words used themselves and in this regard judges are assisted by what have become known as 'rules of language'. There are three rules of language applied by the courts to assist them in interpreting statutes. The rules of language are referred to as intrinsic aids or internal aids. The three rules of language are:

Ejusdem generis ("of the same kind");


Expressio unius Est Exclusio Alterius ("the express mention of one thing excludes all others", R v Inhabitants of Sedgely (1831));


and Noscitur a sociis(We know a man by the company he keeps, meaning that the court interprets words from the context in which they are used).Inland Revenue v Frere (1964).


The ejusdem generis rule – from the Latin, meaning 'of the same kind'. This rule can be applied where general words following specific words set out in a list are found. The question arises as to whether the specific words set out in the list affect in any way the correct interpretation to be placed upon the general words – do they limit the general words in some way? The rule provides that the general words are limited in meaning to the same kinds of things as mentioned in the specific words appearing in the list. For example if a statute applied to tigers, lions, leopards and other animals it could be assumed that a panther would be included as another animal but not a cow. The list must contain at least two specific words before the general word or phrase, for this rule to operate.


The rule can be best illustrated by looking at some examples. In Powell v Kempton Park Racecourse (1899) The Betting Act 1853 made it an offence to keep a house, office, room or other place for the purposes of betting. The defendant had been using what was known as 'Tattersall's ring' for the purposes of betting. Tattersall's ring was an outside area and the House of Lords had to decide if the statute applied to an outside area. The court found that the general words 'other place' should be interpreted as inside or an indoor place because the other words in the list were all references to places inside and, as he had been operating outdoors, the defendant was found not guilty.


The expressio rule – Expressio unius est exclusio alterius is derived from the Latin and means 'expressing one thing excludes another'. It is not necessary to add other words to the list in order to make sense of the provision. This rule is said to mean that the mention of one thing excludes another. The effect of this rule means that if a list of words is not followed by general words, the Act only applies to the words used in the list – it is not for the courts to try and second guess that Parliament meant to add other words by association. For example if a statute refers to lions and tigers it only refers to lions and tigers and will not include leopards or any other wild animals.


In Tempest v Kilner (1846) the court had to rule whether the Statute of Frauds 1677 applied to the sale of stocks and shares. The Act required contracts for the sale of 'goods, wares and merchandise' to be evidenced in writing if they were above a specified value. The court decided that stocks and shares were not covered by the Act as the specific words 'goods, wares and merchandise' were not followed by general words.


The noscitur rule – the rule of noscitur a sociis means that the meaning of a word is to be found from the context, or a word is known by the company it keeps. The rule therefore involves looking at other words in the same section as the word in dispute or other parts of the Act. The sense or meaning of other words or parts of the Act help with the meaning of the word in question.


The rule can be illustrated by reference to the case of Inland Revenue Commissioners v Frere (1964) where the meaning of the word 'interest' was required. The section in the The Income Tax Act of 1952 referred to ' interest, annuities or other annual interest' to be deducted from the income and the question arose as to whether this meant interest paid daily, monthly or annually. Under the noscitur a sociis rule, the mention of amount of interest related only to annual interest and as the respondent's interest payment was not an annual interest payment he could not deduct it from his income and he had to pay tax on it.


In Muir v Keay (1875) the court considered the Refreshment Houses Act 1860 which dealt with public refreshment, resort and entertainment and the licensing of premises. The courts had to decide how to determine the meaning of entertainment. The defendant argued that his café did not need a licence because he did not provide entertainment. The court held that “entertainment” did not mean musical entertainment but the reception and accommodation of people, so the defendant was guilty.


In Bromley London Borough Council v Greater London Council (1982) other parts of an Act were examined in order to establish the meaning of the word 'economic'. The case concerned the question of whether the GLC were lawfully able to operate a subsidised fare scheme at a loss. The House of Lords ruled that 'economic' meant that the scheme should operate on business lines and that this could not be applied to the scheme in question as it would, by definition, run at a loss.


This will not be strictly applied in the event that the Act mentions that the words listed are illustrative by the use of the word 'includes' for example, as this suggests that there may be other items which may apply.


Finally there is the matter of punctuation and this being another internal matter can be taken into account by the judge.  In fact as a matter of common sense and common practice it would be difficult to argue that it should not be used as a matter of course.

(Word Count 1825)

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