Principles of Interpretation: Supplying the omission.

Considerations for supplying the omission:

The role of the courts in construing legislation is not confined to resolving ambiguities in statutory language. The court must be able to correct obvious drafting errors. In suitable cases, in discharging its interpretative function the court will add words, or omit words or substitute words.

In reaching above conclusion Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead referred to some notable instances about interpretation given in Professor Sir Rupert Cross’ admirable opuscule, Statutory Interpretation, 3rd ed. at page 103:

‘In omitting or inserting words the judge is not really engaged in a hypothetical reconstruction of the intentions of the drafter or the legislature, but is simply making as much sense as he can of the text of the statutory provision read in its appropriate context and within the limits of the judicial role.’

Interpretation to correct drafting mistake:

This power is confined to plain cases of drafting mistakes. The courts are ever mindful that their constitutional role in this field is interpretative. They must abstain from any course which might have the appearance of judicial legislation. A statute is expressed in language approved and enacted by the legislature. So the courts exercise considerable caution before adding or omitting or substituting words. Before interpreting a statute in this way the court must be abundantly sure of three matters:

  1. the intended purpose of the statute or provision in question;
  2. that by inadvertence the draftsman and Parliament failed to give effect to that purpose in the provision in question; and
  3. the substance of the provision Parliament would have made, although not necessarily the precise words Parliament would have used, had the error in the Bill been noticed.

The third of these conditions is of crucial importance. Otherwise any attempt to determine the meaning of the enactment would cross the boundary between construction and legislation.

(see Lord Diplock in Jones v. Wrotham Park Settled Estates [1980] A.C. 74, 105.)
[Source: The Inco Europe Ltd v First Choice Distribution [2000] 1 W.L.R. 586; [2000] 2 All E.R. 109; [2000] 1 All E.R. (Coram) 674; [2000] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 467; [2000] C.L.C. 1015; [2000] B.L.R. 259; (2000) 2 T.C.L.R. 487; 74 Con. L.R. 55; (2000) 97(12) L.S.G. 39; (2000) 144 S.J.L.B. 134; [2000] N.P.C. 22.]
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