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Davis v Johnson [1978] 2 WLR 553 House of Lords

This case concerned the interpretation of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976. At the Court of Appeal Lord Denning referred to Hansard stating, that not to do so would be like 'groping in the dark without switching on the light'. On appeal to the House of Lords the Lords reprimanded Denning for referring to Hansard and restated the rule that Hansard must not be referred to.


Lord Kilbrandon

"It has always been a well established and salutary rule that Hansard can never be referred to by counsel in court and therefore can never be relied on by the court in construing a statute or for any other purpose."


Lord Scarman:

"There are two good reasons why the courts should refuse to have regard to what is said in Parliament or by Ministers as aids to the interpretation of a statute. First, such material is an unreliable guide to the meaning of what is enacted. It promotes confusion, not clarity. The cut and thrust of debate and the pressures of executive responsibility, essential features of open and responsible government, are not always conducive to a clear and unbiased explanation of the meaning of statutory language. And the volume of Parliamentary and ministerial utterances can confuse by its very size. Secondly, counsel are not permitted to refer to Hansard in argument. So long as this rule is maintained by Parliament (it is not the creation of the judges), it must be wrong for the judge to make any judicial use of proceedings in Parliament for the purpose of interpreting statutes."


Viscount Dilhorne:

"While, of course, anyone can look at Hansard, I venture to think that it would be improper for a judge to do so before arriving at his decision and before this case I have never known that done. It cannot be right that a judicial decision should be affected by matter which a judge has seen but to which counsel could not refer and on which counsel had no opportunity to comment."
 
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