No definition in legislation? – the ordinary meaning applies

A recent case in the Court of Appeal (Owens v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council) confirms that where a word is undefined in legislation, the courts can look to the ordinary meaning of the word.

The case is relatively unconnected to any recruitment issues, as it concerned legislation relating to pensions for teachers in which the word ‘teacher’ was not defined. However the case has wider implications particularly for the upcoming application of the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 from 1st October 2011.

The Judge in the cases referred specifically to the definitions of the word ‘teacher’ contained in the Oxford English Dictionary and Chambers Dictionary.

In terms of relevance to recruiters, you may well be aware that there are some grey areas in the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 around undefined terms, in particular the use of the term ‘profession’ in regulation 3(2) which allows those in a profession or business undertaking to be excluded from the scope of the regulations. Lawspeed has long argued that the term being undefined must therefore be based on its ordinary meaning. As this recent case now confirms.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘profession’ as “a paid occupation, not as an amateur”. The Chambers dictionary defines it as “an occupation, especially one that requires specialist academic and practical training, eg medicine, law, teaching, engineering, etc”. On this basis, it is clear that many job roles may well fall into the definition of a ‘profession’ based on the levels of training, qualifications and experience required to undertake particular roles. It is important to note however, that the regulations do require relevant contracts and relationships to be in place to be able to fulfil the regulation 3(2) exclusion.

For further advice on the AWR and solutions, please call us on 01273 236 236.

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