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The literal rule of statutory interpretation should be the first rule applied by judges. Under the literal rule, the words of the statute are given their natural or ordinary meaning and applied without the judge seeking to put a gloss on the words or seek to make sense of the statute.

R v Harris (1836) 7 C & P 446

The defendant bit off his victim's nose. The statute made it an offence 'to stab cut or wound' the court held that under the literal rule the act of biting did not come within the meaning of stab cut or wound as these words implied an instrument had to be used. Therefore the defendant's conviction was quashed.

Fisher v Bell [1961] 1 QB 394The defendant had a flick knife displayed in his shop window with a price tag on it. Statute made it a criminal offence to 'offer' such flick knives for sale. His conviction was quashed as goods on display in shops are not 'offers' in the technical sense but an invitation to treat. The court applied the literal rule of statutory interpretation.

Whitely v Chappel (1868) LR 4 QB 147A statute made it an offence 'to impersonate any person entitled to vote.

The defendant used the vote of a dead man. The statute relating to voting rights required a person to be living in order to be entitled to vote.

Held:The literal rule was applied and the defendant was thus acquitted.

There can be disagreement as to what amounts to the ordinary or natural meaning Creates loopholes in the law:Leads to injustice:

Creates awkward precedents which require Parliamentary time to correct Fails to recognise the complexities and limitations of English language Undermines public confidence in the law

Restricts the role of the judgeProvides no scope for judges to use their own opinions or prejudices Upholds the separation of powers Recognises Parliament as the supreme law maker

R v Allen (1872) LR 1 CCR 367Re Sigsworth [1935] 1 Ch 98 Adler v George [1964] 2 QB 7

The golden rule of statutory interpretation may be applied where an application of the literal rule would lead to an absurdity.The courts may then apply a secondary meaning.

judges are able to add or change the meaning of statutes and thereby become law makers infringing the separation of powers.Judges have no power to intervene for pure injustice where there is no absurdity

Errors in drafting can be corrected immediately eg:Decisions are generally more in line with Parliament's intention Closes loopholes

Often gives a more just resultBrings common sense to the law

Partridge v Crittenden (1968) 2 All ER 421The defendant placed an advert in a classified section of a magazine offering some bramble finches for sale. S.6 of the Protection of Birds Act 1954 made it an offence to offer such birds for sale. He was charged and convicted of the offence and appealed against his conviction. Held: The defendant's conviction was quashed. The advert was an invitation to treat not an offer. The literal rule of statutory interpretation was applied.

Harris v Nickerson The defendant advertised that an auction of certain goods would take place at a stated time and place. The plaintiff travelled to the auction only to find that items that he was interested in had been withdrawn. He claimed compensation for breach of contract, arguing that the advertisement constituted an offer, and his travelling to the auction, an acceptance by conduct. HELD The advertisement was not an offer, merely a declaration of intention.

Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co A Newspaper advert placed by the defendant stated:100 reward will be paid by the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company to any person who contracts the influenza after having used the ball three times daily for two weeks according to the printed directions supplied with each ball... 1000 is deposited with the Alliance Bank, shewing our sincerity in the matter."

Mrs Carlill purchased some smoke balls and used them according to the directions and caught flu. She sought to claim the stated 100 reward.

4. 1.

The advert was a sales puff and lacked intent to be an offer.


It is not possible to make an offer to the world.There was no notification of acceptance.

The wording was too vague to constitute an offer since there was no stated time limit as to catching the flu.There was no consideration provided since the 'offer' did not specify that the user of the balls must have purchased them.



The Court of Appeal held that Mrs Carlill was entitled to the reward as the advert constituted an offer of a unilateral contract which she had accepted by performing the conditions stated in the offer. :


The statement referring to the deposit of 1,000 demonstrated intent and therefore it was not a mere sales puff. It is quite possible to make an offer to the worldIn unilateral contracts there is no requirement that the offeree communicates an intention to accept, since acceptance is through full performance.



Whilst there may be some ambiguity in the wording this was capable of being resolved by applying a reasonable time limit or confining it to only those who caught flu whilst still using the balls.The defendants would have value in people using the balls even if they had not been purchased by them directly.



An offer must be distinguished from an: Invitation to treat This is an offer to consider offers.

Look to the intention of the parties (Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v. Boots Cash Chemists [1953] and Partridge v. Crittenden [1968]). Auctions -- Where there is a 'reserve price', the auctioneer calling for bids is not making an offer but is asking for offers from prospective purchasers. -- If there is no 'reserve price' the auctioneer becomes the offeror and must sell the goods to the highest bidder.


Tenders are not normally offers unless the tender states its exact needs, as distinct from what it may only require. Requests for information A request for information is not a firm promise and so is not an offer. At the same time, it should not be seen as a counter-offer as it is only an attempt to elicit information (Harvey v. Facey [1893]).

The offer must be communicated to the offeree. The offer may be directed to only one person, a group of people, or to the world at large (Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. [1893]). To keep an offer open for a specified time (an option), it must be supported by consideration (Goldsborough Mort & Co. Ltd v. Quinn (1910)). Any terms contained in the offer must be brought to the notice of the offeree. Any and all conditions must be strictly followed.

Revocation To be effective, withdrawal by the offeror must be brought to the notice of the offeree before acceptance, although the offeree can learn of the withdrawal directly or indirectly (Dickinson v. Dodds (1876)). Rejection or counter-offer Refusal by the offeree or a counter-offer by the offeree will terminate the offer (Hyde v. Wrench (1840)).

Lapse of time Non-acceptance within a reasonable time (question of fact) or a stipulated time, or death of either party before acceptance will terminate the offer. Lapse by death of either party If the envisaged contract is of a personal nature, the offer will lapse on the death of either party (Carter v. Hyde (1923)).

Lapse by failure of a condition If the offer is subject to a condition and the condition is not fulfilled, the offer will lapse. In the case of a condition precedent, the specified condition must be satisfied before the agreement can ripen into a contract. In the case of a condition subsequent the parties have agreed that the contract will fail as the occurrence of a particular event terminates the contract.

Acceptance It must be made in reliance of the offer R v. Clarke (1927)).

It must be strictly in accordance with the terms of the offer.

It must be communicated to the offeror, either by words or by conduct. Mental acceptance, unless communication has been waived by the offeror, is insufficient (Felthouse v. Bindley (1862)).

In order for there to be a valid acceptance there must be an offer to which that acceptance is a response.This principle requires not only that an offer has been made but that it is in existence at the time of the acceptance. An offer may come to an end in a number of ways. Revocation Rejection (explicitly or by counter-offer) Termination (lapse of time) Death Condition bringing an offer to an end.

The basic requirement is that a revocation requires communication to the offeree of the fact that the offer is no longer open.Under the postal rule, although an acceptance is effective upon posting - a revocation is only effective UPON RECEIPT Byrne v Van Tienhoven - revocation requires communication

It must be conveyed by someone with authority (Powell v. Lee (1908)). Cross-offers do not give rise to an agreement (Tinn v. Hoffman & Co. (1873)). Only the person to whom an offer has been made may accept.

It must be absolute and unqualified (Masters v. Cameron (1954)), or it may amount to a counter-offer. If the offer requires acceptance in a special way, no other mode of acceptance will suffice. Where the communication of acceptance is instantaneous, the contract is effective when the acceptance is received (Entores Ltd v. Miles Far East Corp [1955]) .

Acceptance must be made within the time specified or a reasonable time. Acceptance, once given, cannot be revoked unless they agree to release each other.

The post office is the agent of the offeror, whether by implication or expressly:

effective when received by the offeree; revocation of the offer is only effective when rece