1. Literal Rule
The fundamental rule of statutory interpretation, to which all others are subordi nate, is that a statute is to be construed according to the intent of the Parliament that made it. And that intention has to be found by an exam intention of the language used in the statute as a whole.
The question is, what the language means in its ordinary and natural sense. When the ‘ordinary and natural’ meaning is found, the judge has to obey that meaning, even if s/he thinks the result to be inconvenient or unwise or improbable. If applying this rule strictly, the court will not look at any background, policy, social conditions or supposed intention of parliament.
Sometimes, literal rule of interpretation (or literalism) does not work. The following court transcripts a good example.
The parliament of Tennessee passed a law (known as Butler Act) prohibiting the teaching of any theory that “denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." A young teacher was arresting for violating the law. In the subsequent trial (the Monkey trial), the defending attorney, Clarence Darrow (the greatest defending lawyer in American legal history) examined Mr. William Bryan (a distinguished politician and the most influential supporter for the Butler Act) to show that Bible should not be interpreted literally.
Mr. Darrow--Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?
Mr. Darrow--Do you believe she was literally made out of Adam's rib?
Mr. Bryan--I do.
Mr. Darrow--Did you ever discover where Cain (the son of Adam) got his wife?
Mr. Bryan--No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her. (Laughter)
Mr. Darrow--You have never found out?
Mr. Bryan--I have never tried to find.
Mr. Darrow--The Bible says Cain got one, doesn't it? Were there other people on the earth at that time?
Mr. Bryan--I cannot say.
Mr. Darrow--You cannot say? Did that never enter into your consideration?
Mr. Bryan--Never bothered me.
Mr. Darrow--Do you believe that after Eve ate the apple (of knowledge), God cursed Eve, and at that time ordered that all woman forever should suffer the pains of childbirth in the reproduction of the earth?
Mr. Bryan--I believe what it says, and I believe the fact as fully.
Mr. Darrow--And for that reason, every woman has childbirth pains is because Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden?
Mr. Bryan--I will believe just what the Bible says.
Mr. Darrow--And you believe that is the reason that God made the serpent (snake) to go on his belly because he tempted Eve (to eat the apple)?
Mr. Bryan--I believe the Bible as it is.
Mr. Darrow--Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?
Mr. Bryan--No, sir.
Mr. Darrow--Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not? [Laughter]
Mr. Bryan--No, sir. I have no way to know.
The purpose of the cross-examination is to show the stupidity of literal interpretation of the Bible, as Mr. Darrow actually did it.
On the other hand, from time to time, the court is very reluctant to look beyond the language in the law. The reason is simple: if the parliament wants to say something, say it clearly and do not let judge second guess your “real intention”.
For instance, In Cridland v FCT
, the Income Tax Assessment Act (Australia) provided that a person who should be treated as a ‘farmer’ and is entitled to tax exemption if “he is carrying on a business of primary production or a beneficiary in a trust which is carrying on primary production”. A medical student bought a 10-dollar-share in a farming trust. After graduation, he became a doctor. He claimed tax exemption for all his income according to the Act. The taxation authority denied, he sued.
The government argued that the provision at issue was intended to benefit farmers only, the doctor replied that its plain wording did not restrict the tax befit to farmer only. By buying share in a farming trust, he became a beneficiary. As the trustee was a farming company and he was its beneficiary, this provision deemed him to be carrying on the business of farming! And the high court agreed with him.
The result of literal interpretation is a very, very long and complicated tax law. The parliament try its very best to cover all the loopholes and anticipate every possible situations.
Examples of Literal Rule
Whiteley v Chappell (1868) 4 QB 147.
The defendant pretended to be someone who had recently died in order to use that person’s vote. It was an offence to “pretend any person entitled to vote”. As dead people cannot vote, the defendant was held not to have committed an offence.
London & North Eastern Railway v Berriman  AC 278. The claimant’s husband was killed while oiling points along a railway line. Compensation was only payable if he had been “relaying or repairing” the line. The court held oiling points was maintaining the line and not “relaying or repairing”.
Cutter v Eagle Star Insurance  4 All ER 417. The claimant was sitting in his friend’s car in a car park and was injured when a can of lighter fuel exploded. The driver was insured, as required by the Road Traffic Act 1988, for injury caused while on a “road”. The court held that the car park was not a road because a road provides for cars to move along it to a destination. Therefore, the insurance company was not liable to pay out on the driver’s policy because the claimant had not been injured due to the use of the car on a “road”.