The Human Right Act Has Revolutionized the Way in Which Judges Interpret Statutes

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3. ‘The Human Right Act has revolutionized the way in which judges interpret statutes’. The judiciary practice in interpreting statutes has long been subject to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, which asserts the hierarchical relationship between the judiciary and Parliament in which the Parliament is the supreme law-making body. This was also stressed by Lord Scarman in Duport Steels Ltd v. Sirs[1]: In the field of statute law the judge must be obedient to the will of Parliament as expressed in the enactments. In this field Parliament makes and unmakes the law, the judge’s duty is to interpret and to apply the law, not to change it to meet the judge’s idea of what justice requires. Interpretation does, of course, imply in the interpreter a power of choice where differing constructions are possible. But our law requires the judges to choose the construction which in his judgment best meets the legislative purpose of the enactment. Judges obey Parliament. They are therefore there to interpret and apply a statute in the way that is intended by Parliament (This used to be true also in light of legislation incompatible with the European Convention of Human Right). To achieve this, they must therefore search for the original meaning of the statute. In practice, the court had has established several so-called ‘rules’ of interpretation[2] to deal with the issue. The courts used to adopt a strict constructionist view of interpretation which required them to construe the statute in accordance to the literal meaning of the language because words the Parliament used should have reflected some sorts of their intention in making the related law. The courts should not use the alternative principles of construction[3] when the statute is “plain and unambiguous”. They can decline to apply the literal rule if the statute is ambiguous, but must not “invent
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