Principles and presumptions that the courts use in the interpretation of statutes.

Literal rule:

  • This is the plain meaning rule.
  • It is to the effect that if the wording of the act is clear and exact, it should be accorded the literal natural or dictionary meaning sentences should be given their ordinary grammatical meaning.
  • No word is added or removed.
  • Technical terms must be given their technical meaning.

Golden rule

  • This rule is to some extent an exception to the literal rule.
  •  It is to the effect that if the literal or plain meaning of a word, phrase or sentence is absurd or repugnant its meaning may be varied or modified so as to avoid the absurdity or repugnancy.
  • This rule was explained in Grey V. Pearson.

Mischief rule:

  • This rule is also referred to as the rule in Heydons case (1584) and is the oldest rule of construction.
  • To apply the rule, the court examines the statute to be interpreted so as to ascertain the defect or mischief it was intended to remedy, so as to interpret the same in such manner as to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.
  • To apply the rule the court must decipher and discuss four matters alluded to in Heydons case.

Ejusdem generis:

  • This rule is applied to interpret things of the same genus and species.
  • It is to the effect that where general words follow particular words in a statute, the general words must be interpreted as being limited to the class of persons or things designated by the particular words. The rule was explained in R V. Edmundson.

Noscitur a sociis:

  • This rule is to the effect that words of doubtful meanings derive their colour and precision from the words and phrases with which they are associated.

Expressio unius est exclusio ulterius

  • Literally means the expression of a thing implies the exclusion of another.
  • This rule is to the effect that if words of particular signification in a statute are not followed by words of general signification, the statute only applies to the instance identified.

Other rules include:

Rank principle

  • Statutes in Pari materia
  • A statute must be interpreted as a whole.


  • The statute was not intended to change or alter the common law.
  • The statute was not intended to interfere with individual vested rights.
  • The statute was not intended to apply retrospectively.
  • The statute was not intended to have extra-territorial effect.
  • The statute was not intended to affect the presidency.
  • The statute was not intended to impose liability without fault.
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