Thursday, 4 March 2010

R (Quintavalle) v Secretary of State for Health

Quintavalle is a great example of the court taking a purposive approach to interpreting legislation.

The case concerned whether or not licensing the creation of live human embryos by a process called cell nuclear replacement (CNR) was prohibited under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The process had been challenged by a pro-life organisation.

The Act defines an embryo as “a live human embryo where fertilisation is complete”. CNR is a cloning process and does not involve fertilisation; Dolly the sheep was created this way! CNR had not been thought of when the Act was passed.

The House of Lords found that the purpose of the Act was to protect live human embryos created outside the human body, and that the relevant section of the Act addressed this, rather than how the embryos were created.

They ruled that Parliament could not have intended to distinguish between embryos created by fertilisation and embryos created by CNR, as at the time CNR was not known to be possible. The House of Lords decided that Parliament could not have intended to leave embryos created by CNR unregulated.

So, the Act applies. On a strict reading of the wording, the Court then ruled that CNR was not illegal.

This decision echoes the approach in Royal College of Nursing v DHSS, where subsequent medical and scientific developments are held to be within the scope of Parliament’s intention.

A point to note is that the learned judges referred to extrinsic aids such as the Warnock Report into Human Fertilisation and Embryology and the White Paper that followed it.


  1. Thanks for the info!!!It was really helpful to me as a student!!!

  2. This is helpful. Thanks!


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