chapter
(see Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977; Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977). But statute has intruded into so many particular factual areas that it has become possible to say that certain types of liability are now almost exclusively statute based. Thus, liability for things (cf Chapter 7) is now a form of liability that the courts are hesitant to develop themselves; it is something they prefer to leave to Parliament (see Cambridge Water, p 665). However, even where statute governs, the courts still have a major role to play in interpreting the words of the legislation, and this interpretative role is as important as any case law analysis (see Chapter 2). Does the word ‘offer’ in a statute mean the same as in a contract textbook? What objects are covered by the word ‘plant’ in a statute dealing with safety at work? Is a car park a ‘road’? In fact the approach towards legislation is often very similar to the one adopted by the courts in interpreting wills and contracts: the point in issue is what a particular word or phrase means in the context of a particular factual situation. Statute can also exert a negative influence. And so, in some recent cases, the courts have specifically refused to develop a common law principle on the basis that the factual situation has, in general, been taken into consideration by the legislator when formulating a statute (see, for example, Murphy v Brentwood DC [1991] 1 AC 398). In these situations, the courts often claim to be responding to the policy aspect that attaches to civil liability problems. However, the idea that the courts work in partnership with the legislator—an idea that forms part of the civil law tradition—is not something that is part of English legal history.
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Lord Parker CJ:… The sole question is whether the exhibition of that knife in the window with the ticket constituted an offer for sale within the statute. I think that most lay people would be inclined to the view (as, indeed, I was myself when I first read these papers), that if a knife were displayed in a window like that with a price attached to it, it was nonsense to say that was not offering it for sale. The knife is there inviting people to buy it, and in ordinary language it is for sale; but any statute must be looked at in the light of the general law of the country, for Parliament must be taken to know the general law. It is clear that, according to the ordinary law of contract, the display of an article with a price on it in a shop window is merely an invitation to treat. It is in no sense an offer for sale the acceptance of which constitutes a contract. That is clearly the general law of the country…

In those circumstances I, for my part, though I confess reluctantly, am driven to the conclusion that no offence was here committed…