Justice Fairness Essay Review: Legal Principles, Heydon’s Case

Justice Fairness Essay Review. More on Legal Principles. Review Heydon’s Case and others. When interpreting a piece of statute, rules provide that: One should read the statutory and apply its literal meaning; read it in context.

Statutory Interpretation Rules and Principles

In Canada, interpretation of statutory law historically rested on the narrow interpretation of the legislature intent as applied by the British tradition developed by the English judiciary from the sixteenth century.

Currently, there are three rules and three grammatical principles that are used in interpreting statutes. When interpreting a piece of statute, rules provide that: One should read thestatutory and apply its literal meaning; read it in context; and read the statute in accordanceto its intentions.

The plain meaning rule: reading and interpreting the statute literally

The plain meaning rule requires that the words of a statute be read according to their literal meaning and grammatical sense. As a consequence, courts are not entitled to read a statute in a loose manner or apply their personal constructions of the statute even if the literal meaning of the statute would lead to an “incorrect” or inconsistent outcome.

As such, the court cannot assume that the legislature made errors and/or emissions in its construction of the statute.

The Golden Rule: Reading the statute in its context

The golden rule was developed to soften the plain meaning rule. The rule provides that words cannot always be read literally as there are instances when such can lead to inconsistencies, absurdity, or repugnancy.

When the literal meaning of a statute results in inconsistency, absurdity and repugnancy, these must be remedied. Therefore, the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified in order to avoid the inconsistency, absurdity and repugnancy.

The Rule in Heydon’s Case: Reading the statute according to its intentions

This rule provides that for a sure and true interpretation of all statutes, four things must be considered: the state of the common law before the statute; the mischief for which common law failed to provide for; the remedy that legislature has used to address the problem; and the true reason for the remedy.

The rule in Heydon’s case hence sets out a process for understanding the intent of the statute. In the case of Gorris v. Scott (1874), the court held that Gorris [who had sued Scott for damages resulting from his sheep that were swept by storm due to lack of pens] was not entitled to recover damages because the law requiring pens was not designed to prevent losses overboard but rather prevent spread of contagious disease.

There are three grammatical principles of construction that are also used in the interpretation of statutory law:

Expressio unius est exclusio alterius – This is a Latin maxim that literally means “the expression of one in the exclusion of the other.”  This maxim means that the expression on one thing or a group of things excludes other things.

Ejusdem generis – This Latin maxim literally means “of the same kind”. It emphasizes the importance of adherence to context when interpreting statutory law. This principle dictates that phrases that are ambiguous should derive their meaning from the context in which they appear.

Noscitur a sociis – This maxim if translated literally means “to be known by its associates”. Thus, the principle states that a general word followed by specific words will be defined by the context of the stated specific words. As such, an ambiguous word would take its meaning from specific words that follow it. In practice, noscitur a sociis and ejusdem generis are the same in the sense that they both require general and ambiguous words to take their specific contexts in which they appear.

These are rules and principles that must be adhered to when interpreting statutory law.

Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re)

Facts of the Case

After the company going bankrupt, the employees of Rizzo & Rizzo lost their jobs, with their wages, salaries, vocation pay and commissions being paid to the date of receiving order. After the ministry of labor auditing the company’s records, it found a proof of claim owing to employees in termination pa, under the Employment Standards Act.

Upon the delivery of the proof to the company Trustee, the Trustee disallowed the claims on grounds that bankruptcy does not amount dismissal from employment and therefore creates no entitlement to termination, severance or vocational pay falling under the Act. The Ministry appealed the matter to the Ontario Court (General Division) and the appeal was successful.

The Ontario Court of Appeal, however, overturned the initial court ruling, effecting the Trustee’s decision. After the decision, the Trustee paid dividends to the company’s creditors leaving very minimal funds in the estate. Subsequently, five of the firm’s employees added themselves to the proceedings and requested for an appeal, they were granted an order to appeal. The appeal was allowed.


  • The first issue that arises from this litigation is whether termination of employment resulting from bankruptcy of an employer gives rise to a claim provable for termination of payments in accordance with Employment Standards Act provisions.
  • The key issue was whether the wording of legislation alone can be used to determine the interpretation of a provision is the language has a plain meaning.


The employees appeal was successful at the Supreme Court, which held that they were entitled to payments. Although the plain language of the Employment Standards Act terminates the employment, the court held that the words of an Act must be read and understood in their entire context and in their grammatical sense in harmony with the object of the Act, the Scheme of the Act and the intention of Parliament.

The Court of Appeal had failed to interpret the Act according to its language in this manner.


Statutory interpretation cannot only be founded on the mere wording of the legislation. Therefore, the words of an Act must be read in their entire context and ion their grammatical sense harmoniously with the object of the Act, scheme of the Act and the intentions of the Parliament.

R. v. Lachapelle, (2009)

Facts of the Case

Lachapelle accessed a travelling carnival in Gitanmaax. The carnival was set up on a vacant piece of private property, with hundreds of people and children.

Mr Lachapelle was convicted a convicted pedophile and prohibited by law for life against a public park or public swimming area where there were persons under the age of 14 years, or were reasonably expected to be present, or a school ground, a daycare centre, ply ground or any community center. He was therefore arrested and charged with breaching his restraining order.

The trial judge held that the travelling carnival that was set up on a private piece of property did not amount to a public park; providing that the intent of parliament was to restrict the activity of persons subjected to prohibitive orders to specific geographical locations in which children under the age of 14 were expected to be.


The key issue is whether the judge erred in determining whether the travelling carnival was neither a public park nor a playground, and hence error in interpreting the statutory law.


The purpose of the statutory provision in question is to protect persons under the age of 14 years against individuals that are subjected to prohibition orders. Therefore, there is no need to place further restrictions on the language in the section as the language used is clear and unambiguous.

Thus the trial judge erred in interpreting the statute by importing the requirement that a playground or a park has to be designated or set aside with some degree of permanence.


The proper approach to interpreting a statute is that the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the act, the object of the Act and the intention of Parliament (R. v. Clark, 200)

Austin v. Goerz, 2007

Facts of the case

James Austin died intestate in 2006, leaving behind the appellant, Linda Austin, to whom he was married for 30 years. Six years before his death, Austin and Linda had separated but never divorced. The deceased had lived with the respondent, Catherine Ann Goerz, for most of the six years. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the respondent, declaring her as “a common law spouse”.


The key issue in this case is whether the Supreme Court of British Columbia was correct in interpreting the Estate Administration Act (1996), and therefore declaring Ms. Goerz as a “common law spouse”.


Section I of the Estate Administration Act defines a “common law spouse” as either

  1. “A person who is united to another person by a marriage that, although not a legal marriage, is valid by common law, or
  2. A person who has lived and cohabited with another person in a marriage-like relationship, including a marriage-like relationship between persons of the same gender, for a period of at least 2 years immediately before the other person’s death.”

The judge was right in holding that Ms. Goerz satisfied the requirement of clause (b) of the definition of a “common law spouse”.


As we have seen in earlier sections, the modern approach to statutory interpretation is that “the words of a statute are to be read in their entire context and their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament” (Elmer, 1983).

Pursuant to this provision, the judge was in fact correct in declaring Ms. Goerz as a common law spouse to the deceased according to the Estate Administrations Act.

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References for a Judicial review Case

  1. v. Clark, (2005) SCC2.
  2. Gorris v. Scott (1874).
  3. Estate Administration Act (1996).
  4. Elmer. A. D., (1983). Construction of Statutes. Toronto: Butterworths.
  5. v. Lachapelle, (2009) BCCA 406
  6.  Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re), [1998] 1 SCR 27

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