Questions 1 What prevented the plaintiff from recovering: (a) the small amount of water; (b) the wording of the policy; or (c) the visual imagination of the judges? 2 Would the result have been different if (a) the whole of the plaintiffs ground floor or (b) the whole of the neighbourhood had been submerged under three inches of water? What if the three inches of water had been caused by excessive rainfall? 3 What if the claimant had taken out his household policy on the basis of a television advertising campaign which stated that the insurance company ‘did not make a drama out of a crisis’: do you think the claimant would have a contractual expectation to be indemnified given the damage he suffered? 4 Imagine that the claimant had said to his partner on seeing the water: ‘the bathroom is flooded’. Would this have been a false description? If not, why, then, was the contra proferentem rule not applied? 5 An elephant is difficult to define but easy to recognise. Does this suggest that knowledge cannot be completely reduced to linguistic propositions? Did the judges stand back and paint a picture (cf above, p 188)?
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Lord Clyde: My Lords, it is an elementary rule in the interpretation and the application of statutory provisions that it is to the words of the legislation that attention must primarily be directed. Generally it will be the ordinary meaning of the words which will require to be adopted. On appropriate occasions it may be proper as matter of interpretation to adopt extended meanings to words or phrases, particularly if thereby the purpose of the legislation can be best effected or the validity of the legislation preserved. On other occasions it may be appropriate to adopt a strict or narrow meaning of the language used. But whatever the intensity of the process the temptation of substituting other expressions for the words of the statute in the course of interpreting it is to be discouraged, however attractive such a course may seem to be by way of explaining what it is thought the legislature is endeavouring to say. It may certainly be useful to analyse a statutory provision so as to identify the successive elements of which it is composed and so focus attention on the particular word or words which call for interpretation, or isolate the particular requirements which have to be met for its application… But such an exercise should not involve any significant departure from the actual language which has been used.