It is ultimately up to the court to determine the meaning of a statute. If the meaning of a law is clear and unambiguous, any other views expressed by a regulator, for instance in a registrar’s practice directive, are irrelevant to the proper interpretation of the statute.

This was held in an interesting battle under the Trademarks Act, 1993 brought by the plaintiff to protect its well-known Kit Kat chocolate bar against infringement of its trademark by the respondent competitor who introduced a similar product onto the market. The case of Nestle v International Foodstuffs related to the interpretation by the Registrar of Trademarks of section 16(5) of the Trademarks Act.

The principle referred to applies to any regulator. A regulator’s interpretation of a provision is relevant only insofar as a regulator must apply that interpretation consistently. If the regulator interprets a statute in a certain way it must apply this interpretation consistently unless it publishes its intention to change tack in future or a court interprets the provision differently.

If the statute is ambiguous, government’s way of interpreting the provision may help to indicate its meaning.