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THE LAW IS WHAT IS READ NOT WHAT IS WRITTEN: BASIC RULES OF INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES

WHAT IS INTERPRETATION?  

Latin term interpretare is the origin of interpretation.it means to to explain, expound, understand or translate.[1] Basically it is an act  adopted by a court to find out the true nature of the language .To find out the true intention of the legislature is the reason for the court to adopt it,because the objective of the court is not just to read the law but apply it in such a  manner that it suits from case to case.

WHAT IS CONSTRUCTION?

There is a misconception that both interpretation and construction are the same but in reality there is minner difference between them. Construction is a process by which a court draws conclusions beyond the direct expression of the words. It is not limited to dictionary or natural meaning.

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES

It is a process through which judges try to define the true meaning /expression/phrase of the words which are in question in any statute and determine the true intention of the legislature behind such statutory provision is known as interpretation of statutes.

OBJECTS OF INTERPRETATION

  • To know the purpose of the legislature behind the statute.
  • To understand the true spirit of the ambiguous words.
  • To make effective the old statutes in modern times.
  • To bring uniformity.
  • To provide fair justice.
  • To understand the spirit of the statutes.

PROCESS OF INTERPRETATION

The court can apply this if the judiciary is not able to find out the meaning of the language used in the statute.It means if the language used in any statute is not clear and ambitious and the Court is not able to find out the true reason behind inserting such word or language and the intention of the legislature is not clear. According to Pandian chemicals ltd v. Commissioner of income tax case[2] the rules of interpretation would come into play only if there is any doubt with regard to the express used language.

Basic rules of interpretation

There are three rules of interpretation:

  1. Literal or grammatical rule
  2. Mischief rule
  3. Golden rule

LITERAL RULES OF INTERPRETATION

The basic aim of this rule is to know the intention of the legislature by providing the ambitious words their natural or dictionary meaning. It is considered as the safest rule of interpretation. If the language of the statute is simple and plain, the only duty of the court is to give effect to it. Court has no business to look into the consequences of such interpretation.  In literal rule the law has to be considered as it is and judges cannot go beyond Litera Legis. It puts a virtual boundary upon the judges.

Rules To Be Followed In Literal Rules Of Interpretation

  • Ejusdem Generis;
  • Casus omissus;
  • Expressio unius est exclusio alterius.

1. Ejusdem Generis: It is also known as Lord Tenterden’s Rule. It means words of the same kind or nature.  Where a law lists specific classes of persons or things and refers to them in general, the general words only apply to the same kind of persons or things specifically listed. There has to be a distinct genus or category.

Case laws:

In the case of Regina v. Edmundson[3] the court has determined the requirements of ejusdem generis. There are following requirements for the application of this rule.

  1. There must be a listing of particular/specific words.
  2. General terms should be abided  by  the specific term.
  3. There must be no different intention of the legislature to the general terms.
  4. Series of enumeration should constitute a class Or category.
  5. Category should not be exhausted.

In the case of Evans v. Cross[4], sec 48(9) of the road traffic act 1930 was in question . According to this section definition of traffic signals includes all signals, warning signs, signs, and other devices. The court has held that the word other devices does not include painted line on a road.

2. Casus Omissus: It means cases omitted. It is not permissible to supply omissions in statutes. It cannot be supplied except in case of clear necessity and when the statute itself shows that there is need to supply the word for delivering true justice .

In the case of S. P gupta v. President of india[5] it was held that there is no room for the application of this doctrine if the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous.

3. Expressio unius est exclusio alterius: It means express mention of one thing excludes all other things. Items which are not included in the list are not covered by the statute. It leads to presumption that the things which are not specific in the statute are excluded. It is also known as the negative implication rule .

Case law: The leading case of this doctrine is R v. Harris[6]. In this case the defendant was guilty of biting. But to stab,cut or wound was an offence as per present law. The court held that though the defendant had used his teeth for biting but to constitute an offence under the law there must be usage of an instrument. Therefore, the defendant was held not liable for biting.

Advantages of literal rule

  • Intention of the legislature is simple and clear.
  • It respects parliamentary supremacy.

Disadvantages of literal rule

  • The English language is ambitious.
  • Its implication  is not possible in every situation.

MISCHIEF RULE OF INTERPRETATION

Mischief means a kind of specific injury resulting from another  person’s action or inaction. Mischief rule prevents the misuse of statutory provisions. It is also known as a Haydon rule or rule of purposive construction. The main aim of the mischief rule is to prevent mischief and to provide a remedy.

Case laws:

The leading case of mischief rule is Smith v. Huge[7] .In this case the court made it an offence for the prostitutes to solicit the customers on the street and some of them were charged under the Street Offences Act,195O. After that they started soliciting from their windows. The court applied the mischief rule and held that the defendant is liable because his activities have created mischief.

In the case of Rex v. Ramdayal[8]  the court held that purpose of mischief is to prevent mischief and provide remedy.

In Heydon’s  the court provided criteria for the application of this rule.

  1.  common law before the making of the statute?
  2.  mischief for which the present statute was enacted?
  3. Remedy to cure that mischief.
  4. True reasoning for the remedy.

Advantages of mischief rule

  • It avoids unfair results
  • It fills loopholes.
  • It enables the law to develop and adopt the changing needs of the society.

Disadvantages of mischief rule

  • It is too old to use.
  • It gives too much power to the unelected judiciary.
  • This rule is against the rule of law and separation of power.

GOLDEN RULE OF INTERPRETATION

It is essentially a modification of literal rule. For the application of this rule first we have to apply the literal rule. If after the implementation of the literal rule there is still any ambiguity then we can apply the golden rule . We can apply it in two ways: narrow and broad.

Case law:

One of the leading cases of this rule is State of Madhya Pradesh v. Azad bharat financial co[9].In this case the truck of the defendant was carrying apples but on checking the authority found opium.As per the section 11 of the Opium Act 1878 A, any vehicle transporting contraband articles shall be confiscated.Hence the truck was seized . It was alleged by the transport company that they had no knowledge about the opium. The issue was whether the court would be bound by the Opium Act or not . Application of literal rule leads to injustice.. Therefore the court applied the golden rule and held that it was wrongful to confiscate the vehicle if the defendant has no knowledge about the opium and the words ‘shall be confiscated’ should be interpreted as ‘may be confiscated.’

In the case of Tirath Singh V. Bachittar Singh[10] sec 99[11] was in question. As per this section notice shall be issued to all the person.it is immaterial whether they are party to the election or not.  But in this case, onle the members of non parties received the notice. Court stated that the notice is required against the non-parties .

Advantages of golden rule

  • It allows the judges to modify the meaning of the words.
  • It takes away the requirements of amending of the legislation.
  • It steps into the picture when literal rules fail to achieve clarity.

Disadvantages of golden rule

  • It can’t be used if there is no uncertainty.
  • It has very limited scope.
  • There are no guidelines as to when it can be used.

CONCLUSION

To conclude we can say that interpretation plays an important role in understanding the true intention of the legislature. Because it is the duty of the court to provide fair justice. Judges have no power to overrule the laws made by the legislature. They can only provide the ambiguous word’s  their dictionary or natural meaning. Everytime it  is not necessary that the words by the parliamentarians are clear, explicit and unambiguous and thus it is very important to find out their true intention behind inserting that particular word or phrase .Court can use this tool to resolve the ambiguity and to provide better decisions. Hence, all the rules are a guiding line and important for providing justice.

Author(s) Name: Priyanka (University of Allahabad)

Reference(s):

[1] T.Bhattacharyya ,the interpretation of statutes, central law agency, 11 edn, p. 11.

[2] 2004 270 ITR 448.

[3] (1859) 28 LJMC 213.

[4] (1938) 1 KB 694.

[5] AIR 1982 SC 149, 1981 Supp (1) SCC 87, 1982 2 SCR 365.

[6] (1836) 7 C & P 446.

[7] 1960 WLR 830.

[8] I.L.R 1950 Allahabad 935.

[9] AIR 1967 SC 276.

[10] AIR 1955 SC 850.

[11] Representation of People’s Act 1951,