Starting with law: An overview of the law
Starting with law: An overview of the law

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Starting with law: An overview of the law

3.4 Statutory interpretation

Although Acts of Parliament are debated and discussed in detail and are very carefully written by experts, there are occasions when the wording is not clear. If this occurs then the courts have to provide a definition as there is no time for referral back to Parliament for amendment. In these cases, the job of the courts is to determine Parliament's intentions and to put these into practice. This links back to the idea that the UK Parliament is the supreme law-making authority and therefore it is the courts' constitutional role to implement what they think Parliament actually intended. The next activity will demonstrate the importance of statutory interpretation.

Activity 3: Statutory interpretation

Timing: 0 hours 20 minutes

Take a moment and think about how you would define the words ‘in the vicinity’.


The words ‘in the vicinity’ generally mean near to or nearby. The courts were required to consider the meaning of ‘in the vicinity’ in a case that involved the Official Secrets Act 1920. This Act made it an offence for anyone to obstruct members of the armed forces in the vicinity of any prohibited place. A prohibited place included air force bases. In the case of Adler v George [1964] 2QB 7, the defendant was arrested on an air force base. The defendant argued that the meaning of ‘in the vicinity’ meant near to and not on. The court agreed that ‘in the vicinity’ meant near to but decided that it was reasonable to interpret the Act as covering being on the prohibited place. This was a reasonable meaning because of the behaviour the Act was trying to prevent.

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