Heydon's Case [1584]

Heydon's Case [1584]

Heydon's Case [1584] EWHC Exch J36 is a landmark case that introduced the mischief rule of statutory interpretation. This rule, more flexible than the literal or golden rule, requires judges to address four tasks to ensure the law covers any gaps.

The case involved leases, life estates, and statutes. Ottery College granted a tenancy in a manor to Ware the father and Ware the son. This tenancy, established by copyhold, was subject to the lord's will and the manor's custom. The same parcel was later leased to Heydon for eighty years. Parliament enacted the Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1535, dissolving religious colleges. However, the Act protected grants made over a year before its enactment. The Court of Exchequer found the grant to the Wares protected but declared Heydon's lease void.

The case addressed the relationship between a statute and pre-existing common law, emphasising that statutes aim to remedy defects in the common law. Lord Coke outlined the process of interpreting legislation, emphasising four considerations:
  1. Common law before the Act: What was the state of the common law before the statute?
  2. Mischief and defect: What was the mischief or defect that the common law did not address?
  3. Parliament's remedy: What remedy did Parliament provide to cure the defect?
  4. True reason of the remedy: What is the true reason behind the chosen remedy?

The judges' role is to interpret statutes by seeking the true intent of the lawmakers, presumed to be for the public good (pro bono publico). The aim is to suppress mischief, advance the remedy, and prevent evasions that perpetuate the mischief. Judges are to add force to the cure according to the makers' true intent.

Heydon's Case established the mischief rule as a guiding principle for statutory interpretation. It requires a comprehensive examination of the legal landscape before and after the enactment of a statute to discern Parliament's true intent and ensure laws effectively address identified defects or mischiefs in the legal system.
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