• Interpretation Of Statutes

  • “The essence of law lies in the spirit, not in its letter, for the letter is significant only as being the external manifestation of the intention that underlies it” - Salmond

    Interpretation means the art of finding out the true sense of an enactment by giving the words of the enactment their natural and ordinary meaning. It is the process of ascertaining the true meaning of the words used in a statute. The Court is not expected to interpret arbitrarily and therefore there have been certain principles which have evolved out of the continuous exercise by the Courts. These principles are sometimes called ‘rules of interpretation’.

    The object of interpretation of statutes is to determine the intention of the legislature conveyed expressly or impliedly in the language used. As stated by SALMOND, "by interpretation or construction is meant, the process by which the courts seek to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed."

    Statutory interpretation is the process by which the courts interpret and apply legislations to the facts of the Case, placed before it by the parties to the Case. Some amount of interpretation of the statutes is often necessary by the Courts, as also by the Counsel of the parties.  Sometimes the words of a statute have a plain and straightforward meaning, however, in many cases, there is ambiguity and vagueness in the words of the statutes that gets resolved by the courts of the competent jurisdiction. To find the actual meanings of statutes, judges use various tools and methods of statutory interpretation, including traditional canons of statutory interpretation, legislative history, and purpose, etc.  

    The purpose of the interpretation of the statute is to unlock the locks put by the Legislature. The keys to such lock may be termed as aids for interpretation and principles of interpretation. The aids for interpretation may be divided into two categories, namely, Internal and External. The Internal Aids are those which are found within the statute. They may be as follows:- 1. Long title of the statute. 2. Preamble of the statute. 3. Chapter Headings of the statute. 4. Marginal Notes to every section of statute. 5. Punctuations. 6. Illustrations given below the sections. 7. Definitions. 8. Provisos. 9. Explanation. 10. Saving Clauses and non-obstante Clauses.

    External Aid for interpretation are those which are not contained in the statute but are found else-where. They may be as follows:- 1. Historical background. 2. Statement of objects and reasons. 3. The original Bill as drafted and introduced. 4. Debates in the Legislature. 5. State of things at the time a particular legislation was enacted. 6. Judicial construction. 7. Legal dictionaries. 8. Commonsense.

    As stated above, the Superior Courts have formulated certain principles of interpretation to find out the real intent of the Legislature. These principles may be enumerated as follows:- 1. Literal construction, 2. No external aid Where words plain and unambiguous, 3. Mischief rule (Heydon's case), 4. Words coupled together to take colour from each other, 5. The golden rule: No hypothetical considerations, 6. Absurdity or hardship, 7. Contextual interpretation, 8. Liberal construction, 9. Harmonious construction, 10. Construction to avoid invalidity,  

    The important aspects of this principle are - 1. The courts must avoid a head on clash of seemingly contradicting provisions and they must construe the contradictory provisions so as to harmonize them. 2. The provision of one section cannot be used to defeat the provision contained in another unless the court, despite all its effort, is unable to find a way to reconcile their differences. 3. When it is impossible to completely reconcile the differences in contradictory provisions, the courts must interpret them in such as way so that effect is given to both the provisions as much as possible. 4. Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or a dead lumbar is not harmonious construction. 5. To harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it loose.

    Vital Features Of The Interpretation Of Statutes

    • Absurdity Or Anomaly  
    • Acts: Two acts operating in the same field- Two different statutes dealing with the same problem
    • Aid: from object & reason
    • Apprehension
    • Abuse:  Of a Provision of a statute- Of Process of law
    • Administrative: Decision- Direction- Instruction
    • Aid from other statute
    • Ambiguity: Ambiguity in the provision- Ambiguous expression
    • Analogous: Interpretation of Analogous Words
    • Assumption: Of power by implication
    • Audi Alteram Partem
    • Beneficial Construction: Beneficent Construction
    • Benevolent Enactment
    • Beyond Words of Statutes
    • Cardinal: Principles- Rules- Cardinal principles of interpretation-
    • Casus Omissus
    • Clear, Explicit & Unambiguous: Language of statute
    •  Colourable: Legislation- Exercise of power
    • Conflict & Contradiction- In language of statute- Conflicting statutes
    • Construction: Liberal Construction- Construction of provisions of Act & statute- Literal Construction- Meaningful Construction- Permissible Construction- Plain Construction- Primary Rules Of Construction- Purposive Construction- Rule Of Updating Construction- Statute capable of two Construction- Strict construction
    • Contemporanea Expositio: Contemporaneous Exposition
    • Contingency
    • Creative Interpretation
    • Declaratory Acts
    • Deeming Clause
    • Departure from plain rule
    • Dictionary Meaning of Words
    • Directory or Mandatory- Provision/ Statute
    • Discretionary
    • Duty Of Court
    • Ejusdem Generis : Doctrine Of Ejusdem Generis
    • Enactment: Positive
    • Equity, Justice & Good Conscience
    • Essential Practices Doctrine.
    • Exception
    • Exclusionary Clause
    • Executive Instruction
    • Exemption Clause
    • Explanation Appended to a Section
    • Expression: Qualifying Expression- Two expressions used in the same provision
    • Extension of A Statute
    • External Aid
    • Extraneous Aid
    • Factual Backdrop of Statute
    • Fiction: Fiction Engrafted Under Statute- Legal Fiction- Statutory Fiction
    • Foreign Law & Decision
    • Function Of Court
    • Gender Discriminatory Provision
    • Golden Rule Of Interppretation
    • Governing Law
    • General Clauses Act, 1897.  
    • Hardship Or Inconvenience
    • Harmonious: Interpretation- Construction
    • Heading or title prefixed to a section
    • Hierarchy of laws
    • Hypothetical Construction
    • Illustration
    • Importing any rule of interpretation
    • Inclusive Definition
    • Innovation: Technological Innovation
    • Intent: Intent of Legislature- Legislative Intent
    • International: Agreement- Convention- Laws- Covenants & Treaties
    • Interpretation: Rule Of Interpretation- Statutory Interpretation- Purposive Interpretation- Strict Interpretation- Two possible Interpretations-
    • Interpretation: General principles of interpretation; Internal Aid to Interpretation; External Aid to Interpretation of Statutes; Interpretation of Penal Statutes; Interpretation of Fiscal Statutes; Statutes: Amending, Consolidating and Codifying Statutes; Interpretation of the Constitution; Operation of a statute; Mandatory and Directory Statues.
    • Ignorance of fact and law
    • Judicial Interpretation
    • Judicial Review
    • Jurisdiction: Of Court- Jurisdictional Provisions
    • Legislation: Subordinate Legislation; Subsequent Legislation;  
    • Literal: Literal Construction- Literal Interpretation- Literal Meaning- Literal Rule of Interpretation
    • Mandatory: Mandate of legislation- Mandatory Obligation- Mandatory Provision
    • Marginal Note
    • Mischief Rule
    • Malafide
    • Motive: Ulterior; Diabolical
    • Letter & Intent of Legislation
    • Natural Justice: Violation of principle of natural justice; 
    • Natural Justice
    • Necessary & Expedient
    • Necessity of interpretation
    • Negligence
    • Non Obstante Clause
    • Nositur A Sociis: Rule Of Nositur A Sociis
    • Object: Substantive Object defeated by procedure
    • Objective Interpretation
    • Objects & Intention Of Legislature
    • Objects & Scope Of Statute
    • Objects & Reasons Of Statute
    • Obligation On Court
    • Observation Of Court
    • Omission
    • Otios
    • Overlapping: Provision- Statute
    • Overriding effect
    • Prejudice
    • Perversity: Perverse finding   
    • Presumption: Statutory Presumption | Presumption affecting the jurisdiction of the Court.
    • Pith & Substance
    • Pleading
    • Presumption
    • Prescribed Procedure
    • Preventive Detention
    • Process of Law- Due Process Of Law 
    • Prospective Or Retrospective Operation of Statute
    • Proviso
    • Relevant Consideration by Court
    • Remedial & Welfare Legislation
    • Reports Of Law Commission
    • Repugnancy
    • Fair Compensation: Right To Fair Compensation
    • Redundancy: Rule Against Redundancy.
    • Right To Begin
    • Social, Economic Welfare Legislation
    • Statement of Objects & Reasons
    • Stricking Down of a provision of a statute
    • Sundry Section
    • Ultra Vires
    • Unjust: Unjustified
    • Unreasonable
    • Vagueness
    • Validity
    • Views: What happens when two views emerge from the same origin
    • Void Ab Initio
    • Welfare Legislations
    • Whole: Statute to be read as a whole
    • Words, Phrases & Sentence.

    Legislations Governing Interpretation Of Statutes In India

    • General Clauses Act, 1897.
    • Interpretation Of Statutes Act, 1957.

    Judgments & Citation: Interpretation Of Statutes

    • Affidavit: False and misleading affidavits
    • Apprehension: Apprehensions of judicial bias should not be imaginary, based on conjectures and surmises, the same should be grounded in reasonableness.
    • General Clauses Act, 1897. 
    • Intent: Letter & Intent of Legislation
    • Interpretation: General principles of interpretation; Internal Aid to Interpretation; External Aid to Interpretation of Statutes; Interpretation of Penal Statutes; Interpretation of Fiscal Statutes; Statutes: Amending, Consolidating and Codifying Statutes; Interpretation of the Constitution; Operation of a statute; Mandatory and Directory Statues.
    • Malafide
    • Natural Justice: Violation of principle of natural justice; 
    • Prejudice
    • Perversity: Perverse finding   
    • Presumption: Statutory Presumption | Presumption affecting the jurisdiction of the Court.

    Judgments & Citation: Affidavit

    • M/s Sciemed Overseas Inc. Versus BOC India Limited & Ors., SLP (C) No. 29125 of 2008, Judgment Dated: 11.01.2016, Bench: Madan B. Lokur, & R.K. Agrawal, J, Supreme Court of India [Full PDF Judgment]- Issue of filing of false and misleading Affidavit- Referred to and relied upon the following judgments, “30. In the case of Suo Moto Proceedings Against R. Karuppan, Advocate, (2001) 5 SCC 289, this Court had observed that the sanctity of affidavits filed by parties has to be preserved and protected and at the same time the filing of irresponsible statements without any regard to accuracy has to be discouraged. It was observed by this Court as follows: “Courts are entrusted with the powers of dispensation and adjudication of justice of the rival claims of the parties besides determining the criminal liability of the offenders for offences committed against the society. The courts are further expected to do justice quickly and impartially not being biased by any extraneous considerations. Justice dispensation system would be wrecked if statutory restrictions are not imposed upon the litigants, who attempt to mislead the court by filing and relying upon false evidence particularly in cases, the adjudication of which is dependent upon the statement of facts. If the result of the proceedings are to be respected, these issues before the courts must be resolved to the extent possible in accordance with the truth. The purity of proceedings of the court cannot be permitted to be sullied by a party on frivolous, vexatious or insufficient grounds or relying upon false evidence inspired by extraneous considerations or revengeful desire to harass or spite his opponent. Sanctity of the affidavits has to be preserved and protected discouraging the filing of irresponsible statements, without any regard to accuracy.” 31. Similarly, in Muthu Karuppan v. Parithi Ilamvazhuthi, (2011) 5 SCC 496, this Court expressed the view that the filing of a false affidavit should be effectively curbed  with a strong hand. It is true that the observation was made in the context of contempt of Court proceedings, but the view expressed must be generally endorsed to preserve the purity of judicial proceedings. This is what was said: “Giving false evidence by filing false affidavit is an evil which must be effectively curbed with a strong hand. Prosecution should be ordered when it is considered expedient in the interest of justice to punish the delinquent, but there must be a prima facie case of “deliberate falsehood” on a matter of substance and the court should be satisfied that there is a reasonable foundation for the charge.”.

    Judgments & Citation: Apprehension

    • Usmangani Adambhai Vahora Versus State of Gujarat & Anr., Criminal Appeal Nos. 1592-1593 of 2015, Judgment Dated: 08.01.2016, Dipak Misra, J, & Prafulla C. Pant, J, Supreme Court Of India. [Full PDF Judgment]- In this case, the SC lays emphasis on sustenance of majesty of law by all concerned.- So far as apprehension is concerned, held the Hon'ble Supreme Court, it has to be one which would establish that justice will not be done- There has to be a real apprehension that there would be miscarriage of justice- Apprehension in the instant Case was found to be absolutely mercurial and unreal. To alley fears of apprehension, the Supreme Court observed that it has to be borne in mind that a judge who discharges his duty is bound to commit errors, which can, as always, be rectified by the Superior Courts.

    Judgments & Citation: Letters & Intent

    Judgments & Citation: Perversity

    • Damodar Lal Versus Sohan Devi, Civil Appeal No. 231 OF 2015, Judgment dated: 05.01.2016, Madan B. Lokur, & S. A. Bobde, JJ, Supreme Court Of India. [Full PDF Judgment]- Perversity of Finding- The first appellate court, under Section 96 of The Civil Procedure Code, 1908, is the last court of facts unless the findings are based on no evidence or are perverse.- The strained effort made by the High Court in second appeal to arrive at a different finding is wholly unwarranted apart from being impermissible under law.- High Court was not justified in reversing the finding of fact recorded by the first appellate court.-
    • Krishnan v. Backiam and another, (2007) 12 SCC 190- On Perversity the SC held, “11.It may be mentioned that the first appellate court under Section 96 CPC is the last court of facts. The High Court in second appeal under Section 100 CPC cannot interfere with the findings of fact recorded by the first appellate court under Section 96 CPC. No doubt the findings of fact of the first appellate court can be challenged in second appeal on the ground that the said findings are based on no evidence or are perverse, but even in that case a question of law has to be formulated and framed by the High Court to that effect. …” .
    • R.S. Raghunath Vs. State of Karnataka, AIR 1992 SC 81- Held, “the general rule to be followed in case of conflict between the two statutes is that the later abrogates the earlier one.”. 

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