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The Interpretation Act 1978 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that governs the interpretation of terms within acts of Parliament.

The Interpretation Act 1978 [1] came into force on 1 January 1979. The Act defines words and phases contained in statutory documents and acts of parliament. The Act repealed the whole of the Interpretation Act 1889[2] (except for some paragraphs of section 13 in their application to Northern Ireland). The Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 [3] in the same way applies to Acts of the Parliament of Northern Ireland or an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Interpretation Act 1978 applies to itself and to any act passed after the commencement of the Act (section 22) and, to the extent specified in Part I of Schedule 2,[4] to acts passed before the commencement of this Act.

Unless it is clear there is a contrary intention, wherever in any act of Parliament or Statutory Instrument there are words importing the masculine gender, the words should be construed to incorporate the feminine and vice versa. Also, words in the singular include the plural, and as with the interchangeably of words importing gender so it is with the plural and singular.[5]

Where a person commits an act or omission that would be an offence under more than one act of parliament or under common law they should only be prosecuted and punished under one of the alternatives [6]

The Scotland Act 1998 amends the Interpretation Act 1978 by inserting a new section 23A to prevent an offender being liable to be prosecuted and punished under both an Act of the UK Parliament and an Act of the Scottish Parliament.[7]


  1. ^ The Interpretation Act 1978
  2. ^ Schedule 3 Interpretation Act 1978
  3. ^ Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954
  4. ^ Schedule 2 Interpretation Act 1978
  5. ^ Section 6 Interpretation Act 1978
  6. ^ Section 18 Duplicated offences
  7. ^ Paragraph 16 Schedule 8 Scotland Act 1998

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