Farrell v Alexander: HL 24 Jun 1976

The House considered the construction of a consolidation Act.
Held: It is ordinarily both unnecessary and undesirable to construe a consolidation Act by reference to statutory antecedents, but it is permissible to do so in a case where the consolidation Act is unclear, or cannot be resolved by classical methods of construction. Self-contained statutes, whether consolidating previous law or so doing with amendments, should be interpreted, if reasonably possible, without recourse to antecedents, and that the recourse should only be had when there is a real and substantial difficulty or ambiguity which classical methods of construction cannot solve.
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘self-contained statutes, whether consolidating previous law, or so doing with amendments, should be interpreted, if reasonably possible, without recourse to antecedents, and that the recourse should only be had when there is a real and substantial difficulty or ambiguity which classical methods of construction cannot resolve.’
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘I would agree and endorse the principle that it is quite wrong that, in every case where a consolidation Act is under consideration, one should automatically look back through the history of its various provisions, and the cases decided upon them, and minutely trace the language from Act to Act – a process which, incidentally, has led to an argument of four days’ length in this House.’
Lord Simon of Glaisdale said: ‘This does not mean that the initial approach to the construction of a ‘pure’ consolidation Act must be via the statutes it has replaced. On the contrary, it is the consolidation Act itself which falls for interpretation. The initial judicial approach is the same as with the interpretation of any other statute. The judge places himself, as the saying goes, in the draftsman’s chair. He will ascertain what facts were within the draftsman’s knowledge, and what statutory objective he had both generally and as to the particular provision to be construed. The facts available to the draftsman of a consolidation Act will be all those which had been available to the draftsmen of the enactments to be consolidated. These facts and (closely related) the statutory objectives will generally be obvious from the statute falling for construction itself; but the court may, in default or by way of supplement or confirmation, have recourse to matters of which judicial notice may be taken or to official reports in the light of which any part of the legislation has been framed . . . The judge will then ascertain and tune in to the linguistic register of the statute: see Maunsell v. Olins [1975] A.C. 373, 391-392. Having done all this the judge will be in a position to read the statutory language in the primary and most natural sense which it bears in its context. Since the draftsman will himself have endeavoured to express the parliamentary meaning by words used in the primary and most natural sense which they bear in that same context, the court’s interpretation of the meaning of the statutory words used should thus coincide with what Parliament meant to say.
‘There is one rare situation in which it is permissible for – indeed, incumbent on – the court to construe a consolidation Act at this primary stage of construction by reference to a consolidated enactment. This is where the purpose of a statutory word or phrase can only be grasped by examination of the social context in which it was first used. George Hensher Ltd. v. Restawile Upholstery (Lancs.) Ltd.[1976] A.C. 64 provides an example. The phrase ‘work of artistic craftsmanship’ in the Copyright Act 1956 could only be properly understood by investigating the social and aesthetic circumstances in which it was first used in the Copyright Act 1911. (The Act of 1956, though not a consolidation Act, was relevantly in pari materia).’


Lord Wilberforce, Lord Simon of Glaisdale


[1977] AC 59, [1976] UKHL 5, [1976] 2 All ER 721




England and Wales


CitedRemmington v Larchin CA 1921
The word ‘person’ in the Act, was interpreted to mean ‘landlord’. When dealing with a penal section, if there are two reasonably possible meanings, the court should adopt the more lenient one: ‘where an equivocal word or ambiguous sentence leaves a . .

Cited by:

CitedA v Hoare; H v Suffolk County Council, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs intervening; X and Y v London Borough of Wandsworth CA 12-Apr-2006
Each claimant sought damages for a criminal assault for which the defendant was said to be responsible. Each claim was to be out of the six year limitation period. In the first claim, the proposed defendant had since won a substantial sum from the . .
CitedPirabakaran v Patel and Another CA 26-May-2006
The landlord had wanted possession. The tenant said that the landlord had been harassing him. The landlord said that the tenancy was a mixed residential and business tenancy and that the 1977 Act did not apply.
Held: The 1977 Act applied. A . .
CitedGoodes v East Sussex County Council HL 16-Jun-2000
The claimant was driving along a road. He skidded on ice, crashed and was severely injured. He claimed damages saying that the Highway authority had failed to ‘maintain’ the road.
Held: The statutory duty on a highway authority to keep a road . .
CitedAssociated Newspapers Ltd v Wilson; Associated British Ports v Palmer HL 31-Mar-1995
The Daily Mail had recognised the Union to which their journalists belonged. They wanted to end this arrangement, and offered a better rate of pay to non-members. The union said this was an unlawful action taken because of union membership. Similar . .
CitedRegina v Heron; Regina v Storey; Regina v Thomas HL 25-Mar-1982
The defendants appealed against their convictions for conspiracy to counterfeit gold coins. They said no evidence had been brought to suggest their intention to commit any dishonest act. The House was asked whether the offence was one of specific or . .
CitedScottish Widows Plc v Revenue and Customs SC 6-Jul-2011
The taxpayer insurance company had transferred sums from accounts designated as Capital Reserves. The Revenue said that these were properly part of the profit and loss accounts for the respective tax years, and chargeable receipts.
Held: The . .
CitedHouldsworth and Another v Bridge Trustees Ltd and Another SC 27-Jul-2011
The court was asked as to the dividing line, for regulatory purposes, between defined benefit (normally earnings-related) schemes and defined contribution (or money purchase) schemes. The Secretary of State asserted that some methods used to . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Environment Transport and the Regions and another, ex parte Spath Holme Limited HL 7-Dec-2000
The section in the 1985 Act created a power to prevent rent increases for tenancies of dwelling-houses for purposes including the alleviation of perceived hardship. Accordingly the Secretary of State could issue regulations whose effect was to limit . .
CitedBelhaj and Another v Director of Public Prosecutions and Another SC 4-Jul-2018
Challenge to decision not to prosecute senior Intelligence Service officials for alleged offences in connection with his unlawful rendition and mistreatment in Libya. The issue here was whether on the hearing of the application for judicial review, . .
CitedLondon Borough of Southwark and Another v Transport for London SC 5-Dec-2018
Question as to the meaning of the GLA Roads and Side Roads (Transfer of Property etc) Order 2000. When the highway was transferred was only the working surfaces, the road surface and the airspace and subsoil necessary for the operation, maintenance . .
CitedLalchan, Regina v CACD 27-May-2022
Conviction withoiut required Consent was Unsafe
Whether a conviction for an offence which requires the consent of the Attorney General before the proceedings are instituted can stand when no such consent was obtained.
Held: The appellant’s arguments were well-founded and his conviction on . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice

Leading Case

Updated: 30 June 2022; Ref: scu.240377