navigation navigation: whether a woman may be admitted to examination for certificate of competency as officer: statutory interpretation: words importing masculine to be read as words including feminine
Navigation Act 1912 ss 15, 16, 17, 18: Acts Interpretation Act 1901 s 23
The Secretary, Marine Branch, has forwarded the following memorandum to me for advice:
Section 15 of the Navigation Act 1912–1926 provides that certificates of competency ‘shall be granted in accordance with this Act’ for each of a number of specified grades of ship’s officers.
Section 18 further provides, in sub-section (1):
Subject to the condition in the next sub-section mentioned, a certificate in the form prescribed shall be delivered to every applicant who passes the prescribed examination satisfactorily, and gives satisfactory evidence that he possesses the qualifications prescribed for the holder of the certificate, and of his sobriety, experience, ability, physical fitness, and general good conduct.
Inquiries have been made by a number of women desirous of adopting a sea calling as to whether a woman, after completing the necessary service on deck or in the engine-room, would be admitted to examination for a certificate of competency as Second Mate or Second Engineer.
Inquiry made of the British Board of Trade has elicited that the Board would not refuse to examine a candidate for a certificate of competency on the ground of sex, provided the conditions as to sea service etc. laid down by the relevant regulations were complied with. As a matter of fact, the records showed, it was added, that two women candidates had passed the prescribed examination and had been issued with certificates.
As a matter of policy, seeing that so many qualified officers are now out of employment, my Minister is not favourable to the grant of certificate to women, so, possibly, accentuating the present trouble.
As some doubt is felt on the point, in view of the judgment of the High Court in Rex v. Mahony (1931) I shall be glad to be advised as to whether, without an amendment of the Act, it would be competent for an Examiner to refuse, solely on the ground of sex, to admit to examination any woman who made application in proper form, paid the prescribed fee and tendered all necessary evidence as to qualifying sea service etc.
Sections 16, 17 and 18(1) of the Navigation Act 1912–1926 provide as follows:
16. Examinations of candidates for certificates shall be held at such places and under such rules as are prescribed.
17. No person shall be admitted to examination for a certificate unless he is a British subject, and speaks the English language intelligibly, and possesses the prescribed qualifications.
18. (1) Subject to the condition in the next sub-section mentioned, a certificate in the form prescribed shall be delivered to every applicant who passes the prescribed examination satisfactorily, and gives satisfactory evidence that he possesses the qualifications prescribed for the holder of the certificate, and his sobriety, experience, ability, physical fitness, and general good conduct.
Some words used in the section quoted may refer to both males and females, e.g. ‘candidate’, ‘person’ and ‘applicant’. Others, though masculine, must be read as including females, since it is provided by section 23 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901–1932 that, in any Act, unless the contrary intention appears, words importing the masculine gender shall include females and I am unable to find any ‘contrary intention’ in the Act.
I am therefore of opinion that a woman cannot be refused admission to an examination merely on the ground of her sex.
If it is desired to alter this position an amendment of the Act is necessary.
The case of R v. Mahony (46 C.L.R. 131), in so far as it is relevant to the interpretation of the Act, confirms my opinion expressed above.
[Vol. 27, p. 247]