A boater has recently drawn our attention to Halsbury’s Rules of English Law Volume 44. These are the rules judges and courts refer to when guidance is needed. Few lawyers know or use these rules when representing boaters.
Boaters need to know that the 1971, 1983 and 1995 British Waterways Acts are Local or Private Acts of Parliament. This is to be distinguished from a private member’s Bill/Act which is something entirely different.
Regarding the interpretation of Private Acts, Paragraph 1497 states:
“Where there is any real doubt as to its meaning, a Private Act must be construed strictly against the promoters. It follows that, as between the promoters and members of the public, a Private Act shall be construed liberally in favour of the public, so that 1) Clauses to preserve general rights will be widely interpreted…”
This means that, where there is a dispute between the promoter (BW) and the individual, the court should interpret the legislation liberally in favour of the public, ie the defendant. In other words, when BW terminate a boat licence because the boater is not cruising according to BW’s interpretation of Section 17 (3) c ii (the Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers), the court should rule that BW cannot enforce its own interpretation of the law. If you know anyone who is in this situation, make sure they know about this rule and use it in court!
The boater has recently written to BW asking whether BW takes full account of this when interpreting the 1995 Act against boaters, and if not, why not. He hasn’t had a reply yet…