Interpretation is the art of finding out the true sense of a law by giving the words of the enactment their ordinary and natural meaning. It is the process of ascertaining the true meaning of the words used in a statute. The Court, however, is not expected to interpret arbitrarily and hence there have been certain principles which have evolved out of the continuous exercise by the courts. These various principles are known as ‘Rules of Interpretation‘.
Statutes are commonly divided into the following:-
|Codifying Statutes||It presents orderly and authoritative statement of the leading rules of law.|
|Declaratory Statutes||Such statutes do not profess to make any alteration in the existing law, but merely declare or explain what it is.|
|Consolidating Statutes||This statute is to present the whole body of statutory law on a subject in complete form repeating the former statute.|
|Penal Statutes||They impose a penalty or forfeiture.|
|Disabling Statutes||These statutes restrict or cut down rights existing at common law.|
Following mentioned are some of the important rules of interpretation:-
- Primary Rule of Interpretation.
In construing statutes the cardinal rule is to understand the provisions literally and grammatically giving words their ordinary and natural meaning. This rule is also known as ‘Plain Meaning Rule’.
According to this rule, the words, phrases and sentences of a statute are to be understood in their most popular and grammatical meaning, unless such a construction leads to absurdity.
Nothing is to be added or taken from a statute unless there are adequate grounds to justify the interference.
2. Golden Rule for Interpretation.
The golden rule is a modification of the principles of grammatical interpretation. It says that ordinarily the court must find out the intention of the legislature from the words used in the statute by giving them their natural meaning but if the same leads to repugnance, confusion, hardships or evasion, the court must modify the meaning to such extent and no further as would prevent such consequences. Further, since the literal meaning is modified to some extent, this approach is called as the ‘Modifying Method of Interpretation‘.
3. Mischief Rule.
When it is not clear whether an Act falls within what is prohibited by a particular legislation, the judges apply the mischief rule. This means that the Courts can take into account the reasons why the legislature was passed; what mischief the legislation was designed to cure, and whether the act in question fell within the mischief. The rule is contained in Heydon’s Case (1854), where it was stated that following four things have to be considered in interpreting statutes,
- What the common law was before making the Act.
- What was the mischief which the common law did not provide.
- What remedy the Parliament has resolved to cure the disease
- The true reason of the remedy.
4. Rule of Harmonious Construction.
When a conflict arises between two or more provisions of the law, both of them should be followed and abided by in such a way that maximum benefits can be obtained and that no rule is violated in the process. It is a sound rule that the Courts must use more often in order to avoid conflict between the provisions of statute.
Where in an Act, there are two provisions which cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be interpreted in such a way that effect can be given to both. This is what is known as the ‘The Rule of Harmonious Construction’.
5. Rule of Ejusdem Generis.
Ejusdem Generis means, ‘of the same kind or species’.
The rule can be explained as:-
When general words follow specific words of a distinct category, the general word may be given a restricted meaning of the same category. The general word takes its meaning from preceding expressions.
If a law refers to automobiles, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and other motor-powered vehicles, “vehicles” would not include airplanes, since the list was of land-based transportation.
If a law uses the words such as ‘oxen, bulls, goat, buffaloes, horses, etc’, the word ‘etc’ cannot include wild animals like lion and tiger.
6. Rule of Strict & Liberal Construction.
This statute applies for interpretation of penal and taxing statutes. As per the rule of strict & liberal construction, a statute enacting an offence or imposing a penalty should be strictly construed.
While construing a penal statute, if there appears a reasonable doubt or ambiguity, it shall be resolved in favor of person who would be liable to penalty.
If a penal provision can be reasonably be interpreted as to avoid the punishment, it must be so construed.
Unless, the words of a statute clearly make an act criminal, it shall not be construed as criminal.
Internal Aids in Interpretation
Internal aids mean those materials which are available in the statute itself, but they do not form part of the enactment. The internal aids include short title, long title, preamble, headings, illustrations, proviso, schedule, etc.
- Short title:
The short title means nickname of the statute. It identifies an Act but does not describe it. It only provides reference. It is merely for convenience.
For eg. Indian Penal Code, 1860; Indian Evidence Act,1872.
2. Long title:
The long title of the Act may be referred for ascertaining the general scope of the Act. It throws light on its construction.
|Code of Civil Procedure,1908 reads as :||An Act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to procedure of courts of civil judicature.|
|Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 reads as :||An Act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to criminal procedure.|
- 3. Preamble
The Act’s main objective and purpose are found in the preamble.
It contains the reasons for enactment of the Act.
For eg. The preamble of Indian Penal Code, 1860 reads: Whereas it is expedient to provide a general Penal Code for India.
Headings are given to group of sections in an Act. They are generally treated as the preamble to group of sections.
For eg. The heading before Sections 172 to 190 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 reads: ‘’ Of the contempts of lawful authority of public servants”.
An illustration is included to a section with the purpose of illustrating the provision of law explained therein.
A clause which is an exception to the main provision is known as proviso. Thus, proviso is made used of when a special case is removed from the general clause and a separate provision is made for it.
7. Exception & Saving Clause.
The purpose of adding an exception to an enactment is exempting something which would otherwise fall within the ambit of main provision.
The schedules are attached to statute to deal with as to how rights or claims under it are to be asserted or how their powers under it are conferred.
Schedules attached to a statute, form part of it and must be read together with it for all purposes of construction.
External Aids in Interpretation.
Apart from the intrinsic aids, such as the above mentioned, the court can consider resources outside the Act, which are called the extrinsic or external aids.
Following are some of the external aids in Interpretation:
- Historical background.
The Courts take recourse of such historical facts and surrounding circumstances which existed at the times of passing of the Statutes and as may be necessary to understand the subject matter of the Statutes. Like, any other external aid, the inferences from historical facts and surroundings, must give way to the clear language employed in the enactment itself.
2. Use of Foreign Decisions.
Use of foreign decisions of countries following the same system of jurisprudence as of India and rendered on statutes in pari material, has been permitted by practice in Indian Courts. The assistance of such decision is subject to the qualification that prime importance is always to be given to the language of the relevant Indian Statute.
When a word or expression is no defined in the Act itself, it is permissible to refer to dictionaries to find out the general sense in which that word is understood in common parlance. But courts must be careful because it is not necessary that dictionary meanings of a word may be the true meaning in a particular context.
4. Parliamentary History.
The Supreme Court, enunciated the rule of exclusion of parliamentary history as in English Courts, but the court used this aid in resolving questions of construction in many occasions. The court has now changed the view that legislative history within circumspect limits may be consulted by courts in resolving ambiguities.
The everyday working of the courts involves the interpretation of statutes as it is the duty of the judiciary to act according to the true intention of the legislature. So statutes are to be interpreted to enforce the law. Interpretation also thrives to avoid miscarriage of justice. But if any interpretation results injustice, hardship or inconvenience the same shall should be avoided and the interpretation which supports justice and which is fair should be adopted.