Regina v Schildkamp: HL 1971

The defendant was accused of defrauding the company’s creditors.
Held: Not guilty. When interpreting a statute, the words of a heading cannot have equal weight with the words of the Act. The courts sometimes have to fill lacunae in legislation. Punctuation could be used as aids in cases of ambiguity as could the long title of the Act, headings and side note. Titles and cross-headings need to be treated with caution because they are not normally directly considered by Parliament and whilst they ought to indicate the scope of the sections which follow, there is always the possibility that the scope of one of these sections may have been widened, for example by amendment.
Lord Upjohn said: ‘The argument of counsel for the appellant was straightforward. Reading subsection (3) he submits truly that its terms are perfectly clear and simple. There is no ambiguity; the subsection clearly applies so as to create an offence on the part of a person knowingly carrying on a business – with intent to defraud creditors of the company or creditors of any other person or for any fraudulent purpose, and the circumstance that the company may subsequently have been wound up is quite irrelevant. The subsection plainly applies as a matter of language to the case where there has been no subsequent winding up. Looking at that subsection alone, I agree. Naturally he relies upon the contrast between subsection (1) where there is a reference to winding up and subsection (3) where there is not; a point to which I shall return later.
‘But, my Lords, this, in my opinion, is the wrong approach to the construction of an Act of Parliament. The task of the court is to ascertain the intention of Parliament; you cannot look at a section, still less a subsection, in isolation, to ascertain that intention; you must look at all the admissible surrounding circumstances before starting to construe the Act. The principle was stated by Lord Simonds in Attorney-General v. Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover [1957] A.C. 436, 461:
‘For words, and particularly general words, cannot be read in isolation: their colour and content are derived from their context. So it is that I conceive it to be my right and duty to examine every word of a statute in its context, and I use ‘context’ in its widest sense, which I have already indicated as including not only other enacting provisions of the same statute, but its preamble, the existing state of the law, other statutes in pari materia, and the mischief which I can, by those other legitimate means, discern the statute was intended to remedy.’
‘So I look to the Companies Act, 1948, as a whole and the very first thing that I notice from the Long Title is that it is a consolidation Act. Therefore, bearing in mind that a consolidation Act is presumed not to alter the law, it becomes material to trace this subsection to its original source.’
Otherwise: Director of Public Prosecutions v Schildkamp
‘A side-note is a poor guide to the scope of a section, for it can do no more than indicate the main subject with which the section deals.’ though: ‘…I can conceive of cases where very rarely it might throw some light on the intentions of Parliament just as a punctuation mark.’

Upjohn L, Lord Reid
[1971] AC 1
Companies Act 1948
England and Wales
ApprovedAttorney-General v Prince Earnest Augustus of Hanover HL 1957
‘legislative antecedents’ may in some circumstances constitute relevant background for the interpretation of statutes in pari materia. Words in a preamble cannot of themselves restrict the scope of enacting words, where the latter are wider or more . .

Cited by:
MentionedAmiri Flight Authority v BAE Systems Plc CA 17-Oct-2003
The appellant had contracted to purchase maintenance from the defendant of aircraft it had also purchased from them. They sought damages for negligence, saying the defendants had failed to prevent a known risk of corrosion. The defendants argued . .
CitedGreen, Regina (on the Application of) v The City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Thoday, Thompson Admn 5-Dec-2007
The claimant appealed from the refusal by the magistrate to issue summonses for the prosecution for blashemous libel of the Director General of the BBC and the producers of a show entitled ‘Jerry Springer – The Opera.’
Held: The gist of the . .
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 . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Litigation Practice, Company, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.186852