Mischief Rule

Mischief Rule. This rule of statutory interpretation was laid down in Heydon’s case. In that case, the court was of the opinion that “for the sure and true interpretation of statutes in statutes in general (be they penal or beneficial, restrictive and enlarging of the common law) four things are to be discerned and considered;

  • What was the common law before the enactment of the Act?
  • What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide?
  • What remedy parliament had resolved or appointed to cure the defect of the common law?
  • The true reason for the remedy.

See also:-Golden Rule; Literal rule; Statutory Interpretation; Equity; Common Law; Received English Law; Doctrine of Covering the field; Criminal Law; Felony and civil Action; Sources of Nigeria Law II; Supremacy of the constitution.

In the latter case of Re Mayfair Property Co., Lord Lindley MR restated the mischief rule as enunciated in Hydons case as:
“In order properly to interpret any statute it is as necessary not as it was when Lord Coke reported Heydon’s Case to consider how the law stood when the statute to be construed was passed, what the mischief was for which the old law did not provide, and the remedy provided by the statute to cure the mischief. See Progressive Action Congress V. INEC (2009) All FWLR (pt. 478) 260 C.A

It is the considered opinion of exponents of this rule of statutory interpretation that in order to properly interpret the provisions of a statute, it is necessary to consider how the law stood when the statute to be construed was passed, what the mischief was for which the old law did not provide and the remedy provided by the statute to cure the mischief. See the Re May Fair Property Co. (1898) 2 Ch. 28 at 35. In applying the mischief rule, the court has a duty to “suppress the mischief and advance the remedy”.

In Balogun V. Salami (1963) 1 All NLR 129; the court in interpreting provisions of the registration of titles Act had to trace the history and essence of the law and the mischief in the old system which it was enacted to remedy. The mischief was the problem that usually arises from the purchase of family land where you may buy from one set of members and the sale is repudiated by another set of members, on the grounds of absence of the family’s consent. The court said the essence was to suppress the mischief and advance a remedy.

The mischief rule was also applied with all its force Akerele v. IGP (1955) 21 NLR 37; In that case, the court was faced with the interpretation of the word “accused” found in Section 210 (b) of the Criminal Code. The court, Per Ademola J. (as he then was) rejected the argument that the word meant making a formal accusation by swearing to an information under oath. The court noted that the history behind the chapter was to prohibit indiscriminate accusations of witchcraft and to stop the practice of trial by ordeal and the like by making them punishable.
In IBWA Ltd V. Imano (Nig.) Ltd (1988) 3 NWLR 633; the Supreme Court in applying the mischief rule held that where there was latent ambiguity the court should make construction that will suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.

In Adewumi V. A.G. Ondo State (1966) 8 NWLR (pt. 464) 73 at 117; the court of Appeal, Per Nsofor JCA cited with approval the dicta of Lord Denning in the celebrated case of Seaford Court Estate Ltd. V. Asher (1949) 2 K.B. 481

“it would certainly save the judges the trouble if Acts of Parliament were drafted with divine prescience or perfect clarity. In the absence of it, when a defect appears a judge cannot simply fold his hands and blame the draftsman but must set to work on the constructive task of finding the intention of parliament and he must do so not only from the language of the statute but also from a consideration of the social conditions which gave rise to it and the Mischief which it was passed to remedy and then he must supplement the written word so as to give “force and life” to the intention of the legislature. That was clearly laid down by the resolution of the judges in Heydon’s case (1584) 3 Co. Rep 79 and it is the safest guide today.

The Supreme Court in Mobile Oil (Nig.) Ltd V. Board of Inland Revenue (1977) 3 SC. 97, noted that the literal meaning is compatible with social policy rule of Interpretation of a statute, conservatively known as the mischief rule which may be epitomized thus; in construing a statute regard shall be given to the cause and necessity of the Act and then such construction should be put upon it as would promote its purpose and arrest the mischief which it is intended to deter.

In Adewumi V. A.G. Ondo State (supra) the Court of Appeal was called upon to interpret Section 11A of the Chief Edict of Ondo State 1984 as amended by Section 7 of the Chiefs (Amendment) Edict 1991 which provides thus:

Section 11A: where a ruling house whose turn it is to present a candidate to fill a vacancy in accordance with the provisions of Section 8 of this Edict has been so called and has presented a candidate who having undergone all the processes of selection prescribed under that section and section and Section 8A and is duly appointed to fill the vacancy and he performs functions as such chief before his candidacy for whatever reason is subsequently annulled, that person so appointed shall be deemed to have reigned and it shall be there turn of the next ruling house to present a candidate to fill the vacancy and where there is only one ruling house that chief whose candidature has been annulled shall be deemed to have reigned and shall not be qualified to be considered again.

The court held applying the mischief rule that where a ruling whose turn it was had presented a candidate who had been screened and appointed Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, but whose candidature was nullified for whatever reason, that person would be deemed to have reigned, and it would be the turn of the next ruling house to rule. The court rejected the argument that since the candidature of the person was nullified, then the same ruling house should appoint another candidate for the stool of Ewi since that was the mischief the Section 11A of the law sought to remedy.

In Lawal V. G.B. Olivant (1972) 3 S.C. 124, the court tried to construe the meaning of “illiterate” within Section 3 of the Illiterate Protection Act.

The court interpreted the word in a relative sense. Illiteracy, it said is relative and means inability to read or understand the language in which the document is written. Thus, a graduate in English could be an illiterate in German. In reaching this conclusion, the court considered the mischief which the Act sought to prevent. That mischief, according to the court was “to prevent a person who executes a deed from being cheated, if in fact, he did not understand the purport of his action”.

In Smith V. Hughes (1960) 1 WLR 830, prostitutes who attracted attention of passers-by from balconies or windows were held to be soliciting “on a street” under Section 1 (1) of the Street Offences Act 1959. The court considered the mischief the statute was passed to remedy, which is to clean up the streets and enable people to walk along the street without molestation or solicitation from common prostitutes.

Ejusdem Generis Rule – Mischief Rule

in this rule, where particular words which refer to members of a class are followed by general words, it is assumed that the general words are limited to members of that same class as specified by the particular words. In other words, where particular words are followed by general words, the general words are interpreted restrictively to have a meaning that is of the same kind or genus as the preceding ones already particularized. See the case of Ogele V. Omoleye (2006) All FWLR (pt.296) 809 H.C.

The words Ejusdem Generis means “of the same genus or kind”. Provisions of statutes that refer to a class of things to which their provisions apply and after the class there follow some general words. When the question before the court is the interpretation of the general word, the said interpretation will be limited to the particular words of the same class used in the provision sought to be interpreted. See the case of Nigeria Navy V. Garrick (2006) All FWLR (pt.315) 45. C.A.

The principle of this rule therefore is that general terms following particular ones apply only to such persons or things as are Ejusdem generis with those comprehended in the language of the legislature.

In Nasr V. Bouari (1969) 1 All NLR 37, the provisions of Section 1 (I) of the Rent Control Act of 1965 came up for interpretation.

The provision define “premises” as “a building of any description occupied or used by persons for living or sleeping or other lawful purposes…” in the case in discuss, premises was used partly as a living and partly as a night club. Thus, the question was whether the premises fell within the definition of premises used for other lawful purposes. The court limited its interpretation to the particularized kind of premises. It concluded that it meant premises used for purposes similar to living or sleeping thereby excluding nightclubs.

In Palm V. Snow (1900) 1 QB. 725, see also Abubakar V. Attorney-General, Federation (2008) All FWLR (pt.441) 870 C.A; In Palm V. Snow (supra) the provisions of the Sunday Observance Act 1677, prohibited “tradesmen, artificers, workmen, laborer’s or other persons whatsoever” should be limited to persons of the same genus as those expressly mentioned and could not include farmers and barbers.

In Russel & Jezza Ltd V. Russel (1987) 2 NWLR 437, Kolawole JCA (as he then was) explained the application of the ejusdem generics rule in the following words:
“…the matter in controversy between the parties in this appeal bears no relationship to the liability of a contributory as envisaged in the applicable constitutional provision. Having regards to the meanings of the words creditor or the liability of a contributory it is my view that the words “or other officer under any enactment relating to companies in respect of misfeasance or otherwise must be construed ejusdem generis. In other words, where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things by words of a particular and specific meaning such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent, but are to be held as applying only to persons or things of the same general kind or class as those specifically mentioned…”

In Jammal Steel structures Ltd V. ACB Ltd (1973) 1 All NLR (pt. 208) See also Inakogu V. Adeleka (2007) All FWLR (pt. 353) 3 S.C. In Jammel Steel Structures the issue before the court was the interpretation of Section 7(i) (b)(iii) of the Federal High court Act 1973, which conferred jurisdiction on the Federal High Court in civil causes and matters connected with or pertaining to “banking, foreign exchange, currency or other fiscal measures”. The Supreme Court held that the ejusdem generis rule applied. The court held that the word “measures” must be taken to qualify each of the preceding specifically enumerated subjects, including banking. The court also held that the word “or” should not be interpreted disjunctively but should be read as “and”. Consequently, the section should be read as “banking measures, foreign exchange measures, currency measures, and other fiscal measures’.

In the case latter case of Bronik Motors Ltd V. Wema Bank Ltd (1985) 6 NCLR 1, the issue before the court was the interpretation of Section 7 (i) (b) (iii) of the federal High court Act of 1973, it was argued that the Supreme Court erred in law by holding that the ejusdem generis rule applied since the court applied the rule in a reverse form. It was also argued that it was the general words which should take their meaning or be limited by the enumerated words or class of people or things and not the other way round. In the lead judgment of the Supreme Court Nnamani JSC (as he then was) observed:

“…As regards the decision of the majority that ejusden generis rule applied in construing Section 7 (i) (b) (iii), I do not think that this can be justly supported by claiming that the rule applies in reverse. If the ejusdeme generis rule applied, the generis words “or other measures” would have taken their colour from specifically enumerated subjects: banking, foreign exchange, and currency and not the other way round as indeed happened here…rather than argue that ejusdem generis rule was applied to section 7 (i) (b) (iii) in reverse, I think that the basis of the decision was that associated words could be understood in a common sense.

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