Statutes Law in the United Kingdom
Statutes are the methods by which will is imposed on citizens by legislature. Interpretation of the statutes has implications. Statutes law is an essential thing in the United Kingdom because of the loads of statute law volumes enacted every year by devolved parliaments of the country like Northern Ireland, Scottish, and Welsh Assemblies. Enactment of legislation is for fulfillment of community and international obligations. Interpretation of the statutes is a prerogative for courts. There is no existence of a particular principle in these states such that if a there is challenge involving the executive they do not seek to know the correctness but the permissibility. The precedent doctrine is applied to decisions in statute interpretation, which makes the higher courts decision bind the lower courts found in the same jurisdiction. The England and Wale’s courts of Appeal would, for example, follow decisions made by Scotland court and Northern Ireland court of Appeal if the statute was in application in the whole United Kingdom.
Even with the drafting of many statutes in the English and Welsh courts there are still various problems that arise from statutory interpretation. This is because it is not possible to make laws that cover everything in life, laws being passed in hurry and late insertions of amendments. There is no codification of the statutory interpretation principles. Instead, the common law governs them, thus, giving the courts opportunities to develop them in order to meet arising social and technical needs. Because of their government by the common law it is perceived that the meaning of the statutes are in what judges say instead of in the intention of the parliament. This is not true because the work of the court is to ascertain parliament’s intentions, which are done from the parliaments language used. Thus, it can be said that the best way to interpret statutes is by use of an agency model. This model gives the judge a go ahead in interpreting whatever has been put in front of him instead of thinking about issues in the constitution. By so doing, the judge fulfills the will of the democratic parliament.
Judges do not have the powers to rewrite statutes since they always act within a constraint in the judiciary. In some cases, however, the intention of the parliament is unclear. The statute does not show if the parliament had thought of certain situations emerging in the courts. The parliament may also have had a certain intention but the language used does not indicate the meaning. The court in this case is given the power to find the meaning and indications from the language used. The interpretation of this statute then will not be the intention of the parliament. This method applies to all forms of legislation despite the subject matter. In order to determine the intention of the parliament the courts apply a rule of reading the statute as a whole giving meanings to all words. It could also apply rules like eiusdem generis or rule of limited class. This rule requires the interpretation of a general word in a limitation to the same class as a number of specific rules. The courts cannot fill a gap in the scheme of legislation because they do not have authority to rewrite statutes. They primary work is to interpret it. But if courts are careful in their interpretation the gap may be prevented from arising.
The passing of statutes brings along changes in technological developments and social conditions. The courts work is to find the connection between the existing statute and the new state of affairs because some purpose is only seen when applied to the new affairs, for example, in a statute providing the licensing of vitro human embryo fertilization and new ways of outside fertilization that has been discovered. In Wales and England using legislative history to interpret statutes was not permitted before 1993. Now it can aid statutory interpretation if the statute in question is ambiguous and if a minister in the government or Bill promoter made comments in the parliament addressing the point of dispute. This, however, is a limited exception to the rule of no legislative history. For example, the court is not allowed to use legislative history to indicate the consideration or rejection of a certain law change in the process of pre-legislative scrutiny. Principles of the general law apply to all statutes unless a parliament indicates otherwise. Such principles are those of the private or public law. For example, if a statute creates a public body and instills powers, the courts presume that the body will be supervised by the courts in its exercise of powers under the administrative law principles made by the courts. The rule of law is the most essential principle of law. Thus, the reformation of the Lord Chancellors office in England did not affect his function as an upholder of the rule of law (The Legislature, 2005). This shows how fundamental the rule of law is. The rule of law comprises: accessibility to justice, limited government principle, power separation principle, quality of law principle, and basic rights principles. In the limited government principle the courts in England and Wales do not allow its prevalence until they review the execution action legitimacy.
The senior United Kingdom Lord of law gave some features of the rule of law. The importance of the rule of law principle is to acknowledge that all authorities and people in a state are bound and entitled to public laws and promulgated laws benefits in the courts. He gives the courts responsibilities which include:
- Ensuring the accessibility of laws and their practicability
- Resolving legal rights and liability questions through applying the law and not discretion
- Making sure that all laws apply equally to the individuals in all states
- Protecting human rights under the law
- Providing means of resolving disputes without delay or prohibitive costs
These elements are directly applied to statute law. The courts in England and Wales are allowed to follow the prospective nature of the law but are warned against making contradictions and commands that are impossible.
Domestic laws in England and Wales do not enforce international treaties. However, if the international treaty is adopted into laws of the English, then there arises presumptions in the statute. This presumption is a more dynamic approach to statute interpretation than the agency model. The courts presume that where an international treaty has been made part of domestic laws by the parliament, then the courts subsequent legislation is the intention of the parliament which is compliance to the international obligations. This presumption is important in association with community law. It is also relevant in courts considerations of the fulfillment of international obligations by their parliaments, for example, the East African Community, The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Southern Africa Development Community, the Caribbean Community and Common Market.
The courts have a mandatory obligation to interpret statutes to suit human rights. Their obligation is built on an approach that presumes the interpretation of domestic laws in accordance to obligations of the international treaties. The courts in Wales and England have powers to declare incompatibility of legislation if it cannot be interpreted on the grounds of convection rights. This declaration, however, does not have an effect in the proceedings results or make a constitution on which other parties can refer. It just signifies the parliament and the government at large to consider introduction of measures which can be used to amend the enactment. The convection rights’ intention was to preserve the sovereignty of the parliament in that regard. Statutory interpretation under Human Rights Act uses the dynamic model. The judge does not simply look at the words and tries to apply them but critically analyses the wording considering its compliance with the human rights. These works are based on the parliament’s intention for statutes to have an operating effect in line with human rights unless a different conclusion is achieved during interpretation. The courts in this case act as guardians of human and constitutional rights. The role of the court is, thus, dynamic, hence, the dynamic model approach.
In the dynamic model the intention of the parliament is not much of a concern but the compatibility to human rights is. The human rights act is considered to have revolutionized the constitution as well as the interpretation of the legislation on the grounds of human rights. Challenges on human rights are important and the exception made for them by human rights act is relevant (English Legislature, 1998). It gives the court the power to make decisions in case a compatibility issue arises without consulting the intention of the parliament. The courts adopt a strained construction which allows them to gain compatibility. This in essence gives the court and independent role in guarding the rule of law and human rights.
In conclusion, the Courts in England and Wales use a principle where they find the parliament's intention in their interpretation of the statutes, but in human rights the function of the court is guarding constitutional norms.