Article in Justice of the Peace (Feature
of the Week)
JPN (20 Sep 2008) 619-621
||Doc. No. 2008.023 JPN074A
Introductory Note by Francis
1. Since the following article was written
a further case has been reported in which the court has used interstitial
articulation. Or rather perhaps
one should say that in this instance it has reworded the enactment. The
case is R v Zafar and others  EWCA Crim 184,  4 All ER 46. The
enactment concerned was the Terrorism Act 2000 s. 57(1). As enacted this
“(1) A person commits an offence if he possesses an article in circumstances
which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose
connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.”
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers CJ said (at ) that the provision should
be interpreted as if read with the substitution, for “his possession
is for a purpose connected with” of the words “he intends it
to be used for the purpose of”.
2. The following article refers to the preparation of a Criminal Code by
the Law Commission. It should have mentioned that the Commission have recently
concluded that the project is not realistic, and have removed it from their
Programme (see their Tenth Programme 2008, Law Com No 311, www.lawcom.gov.uk/docs/lc311.pdf).
Improving Law Quality by Interstitial
It is a disgrace that we do not have laws of better quality. I am speaking
not of the substance of the law but of its formal attributes. That is what
I mean by law quality, and to mark my golden jubilee as a lawyer and legal
reformer I have embarked on writing a book about it. This is provisionally
titled Law Quality in Common Law Jurisdictions.
The plan is that this new book will absorb various articles I am writing
on improvement of the formal quality of law, of which the present is the
second. This one
is about the need for greater use of what I call interstitial articulation
by legal advisers, advocates and courts. I first argued for
the use of this method in my book Statute Law, originally published in 1983. The
method is also fully explained in Bennion on Statutory Interpretation.
I am sorry the method has such a clumsy name,
but I can’t think of
anything better. To articulate is to put precisely into words what is otherwise
unexpressed, or expressed vaguely or diffusely. The OED gives
a reference to grievances “which never get articulated”, and also cites
Carlyle’s desire to articulate “the dumb deep wrongs of the
people”. For lawyers the effort of articulating within the interstices
of an enactment helps concentrate their minds and produces greater clarity
of exposition. The OED defines “interstice” as:
“An intervening space (usually, empty);
esp. a relatively small or narrow space, between things or the parts of
a body (freq. in pl., the minute spaces
between the ultimate parts of matter); a narrow opening, chink, or crevice.”
The task is, within the spaces notionally left when an enactment is officially
drafted, to add words which bring out expressly and clearly an alleged legal
meaning of the enactment. It should be noted that an interstitial articulation
is not concerned with improving the drafting of the enactment in question.
It keeps to the official wording except so far as is needed to express clearly
the legal meaning. Drafting defects which do not affect the legal meaning
of the enactment, such as unnecessary repetition, should therefore be ignored.
An interstitial articulation is directed
solely to bringing out as clearly as possible the operative legal meaning
of the enactment. This is especially
useful in a case of disputed statutory interpretation where, as usually
happens, each side argues for a different legal meaning – in other
words, where there are in question opposing constructions of the enactment.
The nature of opposing constructions of an enactment is described at length
in s.149 of Bennion on Statutory Interpretation. I will now give an outline
The usual circumstance in which a doubtful enactment falls to be construed
is where the respective parties each contend for a different legal meaning
of the enactment in its application to the facts of the instant case. These
are referred to as the opposing constructions of the enactment. Neil MacCormick
expressed the position in this way:
“The parties move the court for a decision in their favour supported by a
particular ‘version’ or ‘reading’ of the law, in
turn backed up by consequentialist arguments and arguments of principle.”
In a leading case on statutory interpretation Lord Normand said:
“The courts are concerned with the practical business of determining a lis,
and when the plaintiff puts forward one construction of an enactment and
the defendant another, it is the court’s business … after informing
itself of what I have called the legal and factual context … to consider
in the light of this knowledge whether the enacting words admit of both
the rival constructions put forward.”
That is only half the story. It is true that the courts are concerned with
the practical business of determining a lis, that is a forensic
contest between the parties in a case before it. But as respects the senior
they are also in the business of declaring the law in a way which will develop
it for the future under the doctrine of precedent. It is true that the court
will consider whether the words of the enactment in contention “admit
of both the rival constructions put forward”. But if they do not admit
of both of these the court has to go on to decide which construction is
the correct one.
Where a particular legal meaning favours
a party, the legal adviser of the party, and then, if the matter goes
to court, the party’s advocate
(who may be the same person), and thereafter the court itself, should express
the legal meaning in specific words, if not necessarily words in all respects
suitable for insertion in the enactment. In an Australian case on appeal
from a tribunal, where the tribunal had decided against a literal application
merely because that would have been “unfair”, the court held
that this was not enough. The tribunal ought to have identified “a
construction of language, however slight
or tenuous, which could be preferred to the obvious and literal meaning”.
The art of determining precisely which is the most helpful yet plausible
construction to advance to the court is an important forensic accomplishment.
Reed Dickerson said:
“A knack for detecting the two (or
more) meanings which are being confused in a disputed verbal question
is of more service in reasoning than the most
thorough knowledge of the moods and figures of the syllogism.”
When the legal adviser, investigating a case brought in by a client, discovers
that it turns on a doubtful enactment, the adviser should construct one
interstitial articulation which brings out the legal meaning of the enactment
favouring the client, and also another which expresses the opposing legal
meaning favouring the opponent. To do this aids clarity of thought, and
assists in the putting together of arguments favouring the former meaning
and undermining the opposing meaning.
The result is used in drawing up advice for the client. Then, if the matter
goes to court, it will form the basis for the preparation of the skeleton
argument which is to be presented to the court. If it is a senior court
it will, in reaching its decision, perform the function known as the dynamic
processing of the enactment. This may lead to the decision being regarded
as a precedent for future cases.
Dynamic Processing: The Judicial Processor
For sound reasons, the courts have been reluctant to acknowledge their processing
function in relation to legislation, since it is a function that is essentially
legislative, rather than strictly judicial. However, there is considerable
help in improving the clarity of the law when Judges can bring themselves
openly to accept this undoubted function, and refine their technique accordingly.
I am glad to see that this is happening in an increasing number of cases.
How does a distinct judicial technique for processing operate? Let us begin
with the case where judicial processing of the point in question has not
occurred before. The Judge has a clean sheet. As soon as the Judge realizes
that determination of the lis before the court requires resolution of a
doubt as to the legal meaning or operation of a legislative text, he or
she proceeds accordingly. With the aid of counsel in the case, the Judge
makes sure that the judgment contains a passage appropriately worded for
adding what is in effect a new sub-rule to the rule laid down by the enactment
Lord Bingham of Cornhill recently gave a striking example of interstitial
articulation by the court when he spelt out a restrictive addition to the
power of the Secretary of State under the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment
of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 s.19(3)(b). Section
19 is directed to the practice by some would-be immigrants of entering into
a marriage of convenience for the purpose of facilitating their immigration into the United Kingdom.
It applies to a marriage which is to be solemnized on the authority of certificates
issued by a superintendent registrar under Pt. III of the Marriage Act 1949,
and a party to which is subject to immigration control. Section 19(3)(b)
says that the superintendent registrar:
“... shall not enter in the marriage notice book notice of a marriage to
which [s.19] applies unless satisfied, by the provision of specified evidence,
that the party subject to immigration control has the written permission
of the Secretary of State to marry in the United Kingdom”.
It is desirable to give the exact words of Lord Bingham expanding this language.
“ Section 19(3)(b) of the 2004 Act should be read as meaning:
... has the written permission of the Secretary of State to marry in the
United Kingdom [repeating the words of s.19(3)(b)] such permission not
to be withheld in the case of a qualified applicant seeking to enter into
marriage which is not one of convenience and the application for, and grant
of, such permission not to be subject to conditions which unreasonably inhibit
exercise of the applicant’s right under art. 12 of the European Convention.”
The words I have italicized are those added
by Lord Bingham. Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights
says: “Men and women of
marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according
to the national laws governing the exercise of this right”.
Some may criticize Lord Bingham for boldly purporting to add to, and thereby
cut down the effect of, the language used by Parliament. On the contrary
I respectfully applaud him for clearly setting out the juristic effect of
the House of Lords decision in the case.
Reasoning Out an Interstitial Articulation
In preparing an interstitial articulation it is necessary to rely on reason.
It is no use producing a formula which supports one’s case if it cannot
be upheld by convincing argument. The argument must of course be based on
the recognized interpretative criteria. The starting point is always the
“The basic rule of statutory interpretation is that the legislator’s
intention is taken to be that in any case of doubtful meaning the enactment
shall be construed in accordance with the general guides to legislative
intention laid down by law; and that where these conflict the problem shall
be resolved by weighing and balancing the interpretative factors concerned.”
This rule applies in every case. It is enabled to be expressed accurately
and comprehensively in so few words
for one reason only: it operates referentially. In other words it can be
fully understood only by a person who has studied and understood the multifarious
interpretative criteria referred to, and the authorities on which they depend.
Nowadays the leading interpretative criterion is purposive construction.
The main argument in favour of a particular construction is likely to be
that it promotes the purpose behind the enactment. Take for example the
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, s.27(1). Its purpose is to reduce the misuse of
drugs so it says “... the court by or before which a person is convicted
of an offence under this Act ... may order anything shown to the satisfaction
of the court to relate to the offence to be forfeited ... .” Does
this permit the forfeiture of a house?
At first sight one would say yes, because a house is a “thing” and
that reading furthers the purpose of the enactment. Here however we come
up against one of the primary rules of statutory interpretation. One
must always search for previous decided cases on the legal meaning of the
in question, otherwise known as “processing” of the enactment. If you do that here you find that the court has ruled that s.27(1) only
covers personal property (as opposed to realty) and so does not cover real
property such as a house.
Often the court, when finding there is a
gap in an enactment, will say that it must be filled by finding an articulation
that relies on implication.
Thus in an employment case Lord Templeman said that in the Equal Pay Act
1970 s.1(2)(c) “there must be implied in para.(c) after the word ‘applies’ the
words ‘as between the woman and the man with whom she claims equality’”. However such an implication can be found only where its presence is indicated
by the interpretative criteria referred to above.
One of these interpretative criteria is that Parliament is unlikely to have
intended an absurdity, and one type of “absurdity” is impractability. In a case concerning VAT Lord Denning MR said in response to an argument
“I can see the force of [the argument]. It is literally correct. But it leads
to such impracticable results that it is necessary to do a little adjustment
so as to make the section workable. This can be done by reading in a few
words, such as Bridge LJ suggested in the course of the argument. That is,
after ‘for any prescribed accounting period’ read in these words ‘which
is included in the notice of assessment.’”
Many more cases could be cited where Judges have suggested the addition
of words in this way, but these are only a small fraction of cases where
judicial articulation would have been both possible and helpful.
I would point out as an advantage of interstitial articulation that it aids
subsequent codification of the enactment in question.
One of the functions of the Law Commission is codification. It states on
its web site: “The Commission believes that the law would be more
accessible to the citizen, and easier for the courts to understand, through
a series of statutory codes”. It is in fact a statutory function of
the Commission to produce such codes. The Law Commissions Act 1965 s.3 says
it is the duty of the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission “to
take and keep under review all the law with which they are respectively
concerned with a view to its systematic development and reform, including
in particular the codification of such law ... .
I was privileged to be the assistant draftsman
to the late Sir Noël
Hutton in drafting the Law Commissions Act 1965. Sir Noël was anxious
to ensure that codification was among the functions conferred on the new
body, and I shared that view. As we have seen, this was done. In the Commission’s
early days strenuous efforts were duly made to codify large areas of our
law, but without much success .
What is codification? I have defined it in this way:
“Codification consists in the useful
reduction of scattered enactments and judgments on a particular topic
to coherent expression within a single formulation.
It may therefore condense into one Act, rules both of common law and statute.
The codifying Act may also embrace custom, prerogative, and practice.”
This “condensing” is a difficult
operation for the legislative drafter, which is one reason why the Law
Commission has not produced many
codes. Brooke LJ, a former chairman of the Law Commission, said:
“Unhappily, because we do not have an easily accessible criminal procedure
code in this country, [certain provisions] are not very easy to find, and
a large number of mistakes have been made in applying the procedures.”22
The Law Commission has tried over many years to produce a Criminal Code,
but has not succeeded. Lord
Lord Bingham of Cornhill has in various places bewailed this. I take as
an example his article “A Criminal Code:
Must We Wait for Ever?”, set out in his collection The Business of
Judging I propose to give some extracts from this, followed by my comments.
Speaking of a draft Criminal Law Bill put forward by the Law Commission
in 1994, Lord Bingham says:
It has very largely withstood the appraisal and criticism to which it has
been properly subjected, and has in general commanded respect and support.
I respectfully dispute this statement. In an article titled “The Law
Commission’s Criminal Law Bill: No Way to Draft a Code”, which
Lord Bingham does not mention, I subjected the draft Bill to heavy and detailed
criticism. I am given to understand that it is to this criticism that the
failure to enact the draft Bill is mainly due.
But the code has not been enacted, not for want of confidence in its objects
or its contents, but for lack of parliamentary time, a powerful but not,
surely, an insuperable obstacle.
This is not the true reason. The vast majority of the Law Commission’s
Bills are duly passed into law. Time would have been found for the passage
of a Bill of this importance were there not substantial objections to it.
The Law Commission has tried, with indifferent success, to achieve what
it can on a partial, piecemeal basis. But this is a far cry from a comprehensive
code containing a general statement of principles, and defences, and offences,
and penalties, and procedure and evidence, accessible to every citizen.
The first sentence refers to the individual criminal law Bills which, in
default of obtaining enactment of its Criminal Code, the Commission has
been forced to produce instead from time to time. As Lord Bingham would
know if he had read my article, the second sentence is not in any way an
accurate description of the draft Bill. Furthermore I simply do not understand
how a man of Lord Bingham’s learning and experience of the law can
seriously believe that any criminal code that correctly reproduced the British
criminal law of the 21st century could genuinely be “accessible to
every citizen”, that is safely comprehensible by non-lawyers without
The arguments in favour of codification are what they have always been.
First, it would bring clarity and accessibility to the law ... . Secondly,
a code would bring coherence to this branch of the law ... . Thirdly, a
code would bring greater certainty to the law ... .
All these things might be true of a criminal code that was perfectly drafted.
As my article shows, they are certainly not true of the Law Commission’s
draft Bill. If Judges who in the past have decided contested points of interpretation
in criminal enactments had used the system of interstitial articulation
in their judgments the Law Commission’s task of codification would
have been much easier.
That reflects a wider complaint I have about the Law Commission’s
way of carrying out its statutory duty to codify. Following publication
of my article titled “The Law Commission’s Criminal Law Bill:
No Way to Draft a Code”, referred to above, I received a letter of
protest from the secretary of the Law Commission, Mr M. H. Collon. He pointed
out that the draft Bill had been widely circulated in Consultation Paper
No.122 and added regarding the points I had raised:
“These policy questions were considered with great care, by a very wide range
of commentators, in the debate that was evoked by Consultation Paper No.122:
a debate in which ... you unfortunately chose not to take part. The Commission’s
recommendations on these and other points follow the weight of opinion expressed
I acknowledge that it was unfortunate that through pressure of other work
I was unable to take part in the debate at the stage Mr Collon mentions.
However, as my article says, most of the views expressed in it had been
available for some years in the published sources specified. The salient
point is that the Law Commission have never thought fit to carry out an
investigation, such as it seems obvious needed to be done at an early stage,
into the best method of carrying out their statutory duty of codification.
I am not aware that any experts on techniques of codification entered into
the debate Mr Collon mentioned.
One vital methodology question, which should
have been investigated exhaustively before the Law Commission embarked
on any codification, is this. Into how
much detail should a code go? The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt
not kill”, which is plainly insufficient. The Code Napoléon enacted the whole law of tort in two sentences:
“Any act whatsoever by a man that causes damage to another obliges the person
at fault to make good the damage. Everyone is responsible for the damage
he causes not only by his act but also by his negligence or imprudence.”
This is insufficient for common law drafters
because it leaves far too much to the Judge’s discretion. It seems
that this important question was not examined by the Law Commission, and
so they began their difficult task
on the wrong foot.
Bennion is an author, constitutional lawyer and draftsman of state constitutions.
A former UK Parliamentary Counsel and member of the Oxford University
Law Faculty, he is currently a Research Associate of the Oxford University
Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.
first article is “Multilex and Monolex: Aspects of Law Quality”,
to be published in the next issue of the Commonwealth Law Journal.
last edition was the third, published by Longman as Bennion on Statute
Law in 1990. For the text of the book see www.
Butterworths, 5th edn, 2008. See index entries under “interstitial
MacCormick, Legal Reasoning and Legal Theory (1994) Oxford Clarendon Press,
v. Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover  AC 436 at 467.
Department of Social Security v. Clear (1991) 23 ALD 22 at 27.
Materials on Legal Drafting (1981) West Publishing, p 63.
(on the application of Baiai and another v. Secretary of State for the
Home Department (Nos 1 and 2)  UKHL 53,  3 All ER 1094,
as a “sham marriage” by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999:
on Statutory Interpretation, section 193.
v. Beard (Graham)  1 WLR 1549.
v. Freemans plc  AC 66 at 120–121.
on Statutory Interpretation, s.313.
J Grange Ltd v. Customs and Excise Comrs  2 All ER 91 at 101.
interesting discussions between Judge and counsel as to what words might
properly be treated as inserted in an enactment see R (on the application
of B) v. Chief Adjudication Officer  EWCA Civ. 1934 and R
(on the application of Zenovics) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department 
EWCA Civ 273 at para.26.3.
my account in G. Zellick (ed.), The Law Commission and Law Reform (Sweet & Maxwell,
1988) pp. 60-66, www.francisbennion.com/1988/002.htm.
on Statutory Interpretation, p.608.
v. St Helens Justices ex parte Jones  2 All ER 73 at 74.
F. A. R. Bennion, “The technique of codification”  Crim.
LR 295, www.francisbennion.com/1986/007.htm.
OUP 2000, pp. 294-297.
Stat LR 108, www.francisbennion.com/1994/003.htm. See the riposte by Professor
Sir John Smith QC in 16 Stat LR 105.