Maunsell v Olins

[1975] AC 373

(Judgment by: Lord Reid) Court:

Lord Reid
Viscount Dilhorne
Lord Wilberforce
Lord Diplock
Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Judgment date: 27 November 1974

Judgment by:
Lord Reid

My Lords, I have had an opportunity of reading the speech of my noble and learned friend, Lord Wilberforce. I agree with it and I shall only add some further observations.

The construction of s 18 of the Rent Act 1968 is unusually difficult. Differences of opinion show that it is thought to be capable of having more than one meaning, and I regard this as ambiguous. It occurs in a consolidation Act. Draftsmen of such Acts rephrase the original statutory provisions which are to be consolidated but they are well aware that it is their duty not to make any substantial alteration of the existing law and there is a very strong presumption that they have not done so. So where the consolidation Act is ambiguous it is, in my judgment, always permissible and often necessary to go back to the original Act, in this case s 41 of the Housing Repairs and Rents Act 1954.

There can be no doubt that the primary purpose of that section was to reverse the decision in Cow v Casey . Often a department in such circumstances takes advantage of the opportunity to make a more extensive alteration of the law than is necessary to reverse the decision. Often it does not. I do not think that in this case there is any presumption in favour of either of these courses.

Then rules of construction are relied on. They are not rules in the ordinary sense of having some binding force. They are our servants not our masters. They are aids to construction, presumptions or pointers. Not infrequently one 'rule' points in one direction, another in a different direction. In each case we must look at all relevant circumstances and decide as a matter of judgment what weight to attach to any particular 'rule'.

I fully accept that a word should be given its ordinary meaning unless there is sufficient reason to give it in the particular case a secondary or limited meaning. Here the difficult word is 'premises'. The case for the plaintiff is that it should here be given a limited meaning, and the question as I see it is whether there is sufficient reason for doing that. I shall not repeat the reasons adduced by my noble and learned friend. But it appears to me that s 41 of the 1954 Act itself contains a fairly clear pointer to the word 'premises' being intended to be limited to premises of a residential character.

Section 41 directs us to suppose that in lieu of the superior letting there had been two lettings, one of the sublet part and one of the rest of the subjects in the superior lease, and it further directs us to suppose (as I read the section) that the subjects of each of these two supposed lettings were let 'for the like purposes as under the superior letting'. If the purposes under the superior letting were residential purposes there is no difficulty--the purpose for the sublet part was in the original lease residential, it remains residential and the Rent Acts apply. But this part of the section causes some difficulty if the purpose of the superior letting was not residential but was, say, agricultural. Suppose that a farm to be let includes several cottages all occupied by farm workers. One would I think naturally say that the whole original lease or 'superior letting' had only one purpose which was agricultural. It would at least be unusual to say that it had two purposes--residential as regards the farmer's house and the cottages and agricultural as regards the land and the other buildings. I would think that if one of the cottages is sublet to a person who has no connection with the farm, there is a change of purpose. But the section will not work unless it can be said that there were two purposes in the original lease so that the purpose of letting the house and cottage was residential and not agricultural. I do not regard this as a conclusive argument but it is I think a fairly clear indication that the draftsman did not have in mind any 'superior letting' other than a letting for residential purposes.

Finally I think this is a typical case for the application of the 'rule' that a court, in doubt between two constructions of a statutory provision, should lean towards that construction which involves the least alteration of the common law.

I would dismiss this appeal.