Legal disjunction

A fine example of the problems of grammatically vague statements:

In reproducing the obscure wording of treaty obligations in the Oil in Navigable Waters Act 1955, s 1 of the Act said that if oil were unlawfully discharged from a British ship ‘the owner or master’ of the ship would be guilty of an offence. In Federal Steam Navigation Co v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 1 WLR 505, both the owner and the master of a ship were convicted. In dismissing their appeals, the House of Lords split three to two.

This interpretation of inclusive disjunction is an example of the golden rule, a form of statutory construction traditionally applied by courts in England and Wales; as per Grey v Pearson (1857) 6 HLC 61: “In construing statutes, and all written instruments, the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument, in which case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified, so as to avoid that absurdity or inconsistency, but not farther.”.

(thanks to James Davenport)

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