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INTERPRETING PARLIAMENTARY INACTION

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 May 2020

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Abstract

This article considers the interpretive significance of legislative inaction. Section I considers the nature of arguments based on legislative inaction. Section II explores the practical, conceptual and constitutional problems with trying to rely on legislative inaction as an interpretive aid. Section III concludes that attempts to draw inferences from legislative inaction alone are deeply flawed, but that inferences might legitimately be drawn from inaction if it forms part of the context against which the legislation is enacted. Even then, however, there are practical difficulties in determining what inferences to draw.

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Articles
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Copyright © Cambridge Law Journal and Contributors 2020

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Footnotes

*

Parliamentary Counsel, London.

This article is written in a personal capacity. I would like to thank Professor David Feldman, Luke Norbury and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

References

1 For examples of the US literature, see Tribe, L., “Toward a Syntax of the Unsaid: Construing the Sounds of Congressional and Constitutional Silence” (1982) 57 L.J. Indiana 515Google Scholar; Eskridge, W.N., “Interpreting Legislative Inaction” (1988) 87 Mich.L.Rev. 67CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 See e.g. Campbell v Gordon [2016] UKSC 38, [2016] A.C. 1513, at [44], per Lady Hale; Majrowski v Guy's and St. Thomas’ NHS Trust [2006] UKHL 34, [2007] 1 A.C. 224, at [72], per Lady Hale.

3 Barras v Aberdeen Sea Trawling and Fishing Co. Ltd. [1933] A.C. 402; R. (ZH and CN) v London Borough of Newham and London Borough of Lewisham [2014] UKSC 62, [2015] A.C. 1259, at [53], per Lord Hodge.

4 R. (ZH and CN) [2014] UKSC 62, [2015] A.C. 1259.

5 R. (Mustafa) v Kent County Council [2018] EWHC 2025 (Admin). For a further (albeit less clear) example, see WB v W DC [2018] EWCA Civ 928, [2019] Q.B. 625, at [35], where the reference to “the subsequent confirmation given by Parliament to the interpretation in ex p Ferdous Begum” would appear to be a reference to the supposed confirmation by Parliament, subsequent to the Human Rights Act 1998, by its failure to reverse or modify that decision.

6 At para. [34].

7 R. v JTB [2009] UKHL 20, [2009] 1 A.C. 1310.

8 Section 34 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides: “The rebuttable presumption of criminal law that a child aged 10 or over is incapable of committing an offence is hereby abolished.”

9 Ibid., at paras. [31], [32], [35].

10 Ibid., at para. [40].

12 Ibid., at para. [42].

13 For a wide-ranging collection of authorities, see Ekins, R. and Goldsworthy, J., “The Reality and Indispensability of Legislative Intentions” (2014) 26 Sydney L.Rev. 39, at 3941Google Scholar.

14 Sales, P., “Legislative Intention, Interpretation, and the Principle of Legality” (2019) 40 Stat.L.R. 53, at 58Google Scholar.

15 See e.g. R. (Spath Holme Ltd.) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions [2001] 2 A.C. 349, 396G, per Lord Nicholls.

16 See e.g. Burrows, A., Thinking about Statutes: Interpretation, Interaction, Improvement (Cambridge 2018), 1719CrossRefGoogle Scholar, who proposes focusing on “purpose” rather than “intention”.

17 See e.g. Dworkin, R., Law's Empire (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 313–54Google Scholar; Waldron, J., Law and Disagreement (Oxford 1999), 119–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Ekins, R., The Nature of Legislative Intent (Oxford 2012), 13, 112–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For another recent defence of legislative intention, see Sales, “Legislative Intention”.

19 A difficulty briefly acknowledged in R. (ZH and CN) v London Borough of Newham and London Borough of Lewisham [2014] UKSC 62, [2015] A.C. 1259, at [85], per Lord Carnwath, at [167], per Lady Hale. See also Eskridge, “Interpreting Legislative Inaction”, p. 98.

20 See e.g. R. (Spath Holme Ltd.) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions [2001] 2 A.C. 349, 396G, per Lord Nicholls.

21 For discussion of causes of legislative silence more generally, see D. Howarth, “On Parliamentary Silence”, U.K. Const. L. Blog, 13 December 2016, available at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/.

22 A point made in A. Kavanagh, “The Role of Parliamentary Intention in Adjudication under the Human Rights Act 1998” [2006] 26 O.J.L.S 180, at 182, in relation to the unenacted intentions of Parliament more generally.

23 For a more detailed account, see Russell, M. and Gover, D., Legislation at Westminster (Oxford 2017), 97104CrossRefGoogle Scholar, where it is suggested that there are at least five categories of opposition amendments: information seeking; signalling; political game-playing; procedural devices; and legislation change.

24 Pepper v Hart [1993] A.C. 593.

25 R. v JTB [2009] UKHL 20, [2009] 1 A.C. 1310.

26 Pepper v Hart [1993] A.C. 593, 642.

27 I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer who pointed out this distinction on an earlier draft of this article.

28 R. v JTB [2009] UKHL 20, [2009] 1 A.C. 1310.

29 Fothergill v Monarch Airlines Ltd. [1981] A.C. 251, 279F. See also Bogdanic v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWHC 2872 (QB), at [13], per Sales J. and the authorities cited there.

30 Bogdanic v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWHC 2872 (QB), at [13].

31 E.g. the online version of Hansard, available at https://hansard.parliament.uk, has many months missing even from the past 20 years. For Bills in the 2007–08 Session or later Sessions, it is easier to find all of the parliamentary material since it is provided in the “Bills before Parliament” section on Parliament's website.

32 The courts have decided that the difficulty of accessing parliamentary material and the cost and delay in researching it do not outweigh its potential value as an external aid to construction: Pepper v Hart [1993] A.C. 593, 637, per Lord Browne-Wilkinson.

33 I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer who made this comment on an earlier draft of this article.

34 In re Spectrum Plus Ltd. (in liquidation) [2005] UKHL 41, [2005] 2 A.C. 680, at [38].

35 For a detailed examination of section 3 and legislative intention, see Kavanagh, “The Role of Parliamentary Intention”.

36 R. (ZYN) v Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council [2014] EWHC 1918 (Admin), [2015] 1 All E.R. 165, at [45], per Leggat J.

37 See e.g. Eskridge, W.N., Dynamic Interpretation (Cambridge, Mass., 1994)Google Scholar.

38 See e.g. X Ltd. v Morgan-Grampian (Publishers) Ltd. [1991] 1 A.C. 1, 48, per Lord Bridge; Duport Steel v Sirs [1980] 1 W.L.R. 142, 157, per Lord Diplock.

39 An arguable, albeit limited, exception is that, where the courts have recognised Parliament's exclusive jurisdiction over matters relating to parliamentary proceedings and conduct, this jurisdiction covers certain questions of statutory interpretation: Bradlaugh v Gossett (1884) 12 Q.B.D. 271, 280–81.

40 R. (Cart) v Upper Tribunal (Public Law Project intervening) [2009] EWHC 3052 (Admin), at [38], per Laws L.J., endorsed by a majority of the Justices in R. (Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal [2019] UKSC 22, [2019] 2 W.L.R. 1219

41 See also R. (ZH and CN) v London Borough of Newham and London Borough of Lewisham [2014] UKSC 62, [2015] A.C. 1259, at [82], per Lord Carnwath, at [147], per Lord Neuberger.

42 Wilson v First Country Trust [2003] UKHL 40, [2004] 1 A.C. 816, at [67], per Lord Nicholls.

43 Black-Clawson International v Papierwerke Waldhof-Aschaffenburg [1975] A.C. 591, 638, per Lord Diplock. See also Allan, T.R.S., Law, Liberty and Justice: The Legal Foundations of British Constitutionalism (Oxford 1993), 68Google Scholar: “legislative sovereignty inheres in the words enacted – interpreted correctly in accordance with the constitutional premises of the rule of law – not in the aspirations of government or even parliamentary majority”.

44 Inland Revenue Commissioners v Dowdall, O'Mahoney & Co. Ltd. [1952] A.C. 401, 426, per Lord Radcliffe.

45 Feldman, D., “Statutory Interpretation and Constitutional Legislation” (2014) 130 L.Q.R. 473, at 481Google Scholar.

46 Wilson v First Country Trust [2003] UKHL 40, [2004] 1 A.C. 816, at [139].

47 R. (Westminster City Council) v National Asylum Support Service [2002] UKHL 38, [2002] 1 W.L.R. 2956, at [5], per Lord Steyn.

48 See e.g. A-G v HRH Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover [1957] A.C. 436, 461, per Viscount Simonds.

49 For similar arguments, see Tribe, “Toward a Syntax of the Unsaid”, p. 529.

50 Kavanagh, A., “Pepper v Hart and Matters of Constitutional Principle” (2005) 121 L.Q.R 98, at 103–04Google Scholar; Manning, J., “Textualism as a Non-Delegation Doctrine” (1997) 97 Columbia L.R. 673, at 708Google Scholar.

51 Black-Clawson International v Papierwerke Waldhof-Aschaffenburg [1975] A.C. 591, 629.

52 Pepper v Hart [1993] A.C. 593.

53 The criticisms made here are the same as those that have been made in relation to the use parliamentary debates (see Kavanagh, “Pepper v Hart”, pp. 99–100) but would appear to apply with all the more force in the case of parliamentary inaction.

54 Sales, “Legislative Intention”, p. 55.

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