4 Rules for the Interpretation of Statute

Interpretation of Statute

The interpretation of statute is the rule which tells us how to read, understand and drive the conclusion from all the other statutes and laws. If you are good at the interpretation of statutes then it becomes easy for you to understand other acts and statutes. In this article on the interpretation of statute, we will talk about every point related to the topic. 

To make d conclusion in any act or rule the simplest rule is to:

  • Reading
  • Understanding
  • Conclusion

This is the best way to interpret any law and statute. 

It is the parliament in India that makes the law. After enacting any law or act, it is the duty of the executive to execute the law in various fields for which the law has been made. After the execution of the law, all the public accept these laws. But the problem arises when there is any confliction rise made by the parliament. So here comes the role of the judiciary to solve the conflicts in the law. 

Parliament has made hundreds of laws for the public. But sometimes the situation arises that the law is not clear or tough to understand. Even after some time, the law gives two different meanings in one line of the law. So the court will interpret such a type of law to remove the difficulties so that the law can be implemented without any conflict. 

Table of Contents

Role of interpretation

Our laws are written in the express language of English. The English language is not as clear as mathematics. There can be many ambiguities in the language. The chances are that the language is not clear or there is a need for more detail in the language. So in situations where there are any ambiguities or imperfections in the language, the role for interpretation starts from there. 

Need for interpretation of statute

There are many reasons where you need the interpretation:

  • Imperfection of language

It happens sometimes that the language of no is not clear for there is any perfection in the language. To clear these ambiguities and imperfections, the rule of interpretation is used. 

  • Language may not signify the intention

It is possible that the language which is used to make the law may not always explain or signify the intention of the makers of that law. It is also possible that when the law was enacted it was sufficient for that time according to the situation. But in the present time, lots of situations arise and now law needs more clarification and interpretation for new circumstances. 

  • Multiple interpretations offer law

Where the law is giving more than one meaning, in that case the interpretation is important. 

  • Different circumstances while making law

The law is made by human beings who are legal experts in their field. At the time of making the law made the law on the basis of that time period and circumstances. But no human can make the law that may also solve the problems that arise in future. So we need the interpretation of statute in the present time when the laws made by the creators are not sufficient in the present time. 

  • Law is not covering the specific area

In some laws, it happens that the legislation doesn’t cover all the areas where the law should apply. So whenever the question arises for or the law against such areas we take the help of interpretation of statutes to fill these gaps. 

  • Error in the drafting of the law

Dialogue may be made without sufficient knowledge of the subject for which the law is made. Due to the lack of necessary resources and words, there can be errors in drafting which makes the law unclear and needs interpretation. 

  • Rules are not complete

It has been seen in many laws that the laws made by legislation were incomplete. Such laws need to add more rules and regulations so that the law can be properly applied. The judiciary adds such rules and regulations which are missing while making the laws. 

These are some situations in which the need for interpretation of statutes is necessary. It is the duty of the judiciary to improve these ambiguities and fill the gap according to the true intention of the legislature.

Interpretation and construction

Interpretation and construction both are important parts of the interpretation of statutes. These two are the methods to make any law clear and useful for the public. The judiciary decides whether the law needs interpretation or construction to remove the ambiguity from the law.

Interpretation of statute is the primary function of the court. It is the duty of the court to interpret the statute whenever a dispute arises in the statute. A statute defines the intention of the legislature in the form of the statute. The court of law finds out the real intention of the legislature in the language used by the legislature in statutes. The court cannot interpret the statute arbitrarily, there are some certain principles that evolved with the continuous exercise by the court. These principles of interpretation are called rules of interpretation.

Meaning of interpretation

The term interpretation is taken from the Latin term “Interpretari” which literally means to explain, understand or translate

In simple words, interpretation is the process to explain or translating any law or text which is in written form. Interpretation is used to discover the true meaning of the law and language used in the law or statute. 

Interpretation of statute is the process that is used by the courts to correct the understanding of the law by determining the true intention of the legislative of the act. It is the duty of the court to implement the laws in public properly and without any mistakes so it becomes very important to know the true meaning of every law. There are many rules of interpretation that can be used by the judiciary to clarify the law. Normally when the law shows any conflict, the judiciary tries to interpret the law by the literal meaning of the term. But sometimes it happens that the interpretation of statute by literal meaning is not sufficient to know the true intention of the legislature. So to know the true intention of the legislature the judiciary uses other methods for the interpretation of that specific statute. 

An old Jurist Salmond gives the definition of interpretation that the interpretation is the process used by the court to understand the meaning of law given by the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which the law is expressed. 

Authority form means the application of the rules of interpretation to find the real intention of the legislature. 

The law or statute must be uniform, certain and predictable. 

According to Keeton, he said that function of judges related to interpretation includes-

  • Firstly- a Judge has to decide the exact meaning of the legislature which is actually said. 
  • Secondly- he must find out the real intention of the legislature to say that word.

Public interest litigation was filed in the Allahabad High Court. In this PIL the Allahabad High Court interpreted article 25 of the constitution of India. 

Article 25 of the Indian constitution does not give the definition of any religion. In this case, the code find out the objective of the article and it was decided that loudspeakers are not a part of Islam. The use of loudspeakers is not a fundamental right protected under article 25 of the constitution of India. 

Meaning of construction

Construction is a process used by the judiciary to draw the conclusion or the crux of the subject which is beyond the direct impression of that law. In simple words, construction is a process that is used in the drawing of a conclusion from a subject that is not understandable from its direct text. The process of construction is used to explain the difficult and hard written words in the laws and statutes by the legislature. The conclusion of these terms holds the logic behind the addition of this word in law. The basic principle of construction is to make the statute clear so that it could be implemented without any hindrance. 

Differences between interpretation and construction

S NoInterpretationConstruction
1Interpretation is the art of finding the true meaning of a word by giving the natural and ordinary meaning. Construction means drawing a conclusion where a word has more than one meaning. 
2Interpretation is a true form of the word by conveying the intention of the legislature. Construction is the drawing of conclusions even from beyond the direct expression of the language of the statute. 

Interpretation of statute

Interpretation of statutes is a way to identify the true intention of the legislature who enact the law and to solve the ambiguity from the laws. 

Purpose of interpretation of statute

The purpose of the interpretation of statute is to help the judiciary to ascertain the true intention of the legislature who made the law. There is no intention to control or confine the law within the limits. Judges of the court always try to implement the law while taking the intention of the legislature into their minds. 

Basically, there are two basic reasons for the interpretation of statutes which are:

  • To know the real meaning of the word
  • To identify the purpose, object, reason or spirit to add that particular word in law.

Principles of interpretation of statutes

It is a fundamental principle that the conflicted word of a statute must be read in its entire context while doing the interpretation. The purpose, intention of the legislature and object of that act should remain in the mind while doing the process of interpretation. There are some principles of interpretation that should be taken care air at the time of statutory interpretation:

  • The intention of the legislature
  • The statute must be read as a whole while interpreting any specific law of the statute
  • The interpretation must be done in a way that the law should be capable of implementing. 
  • If the meaning of the word is clear and unambiguous, the effect must be given regardless of the outcome.
  • The process of construction should be the combination of the literal and opposite approach
  • If the literal construction leads to absurdity, the construction must be shifted to another rule of interpretation
  • According to the rule of interpretation, if two or more than two provisions of the same statute are conflicting with each other, in that situation the court will try to construe the provisions in such a way to give the effect for both the provisions by maintaining the harmony between both the laws.

What is a statute? 

A statute refers to law and regulation of every sort, provision or law which permits or prohibits anything. These are passed by the legislature. 

Rules of interpretation of statutes

There are different rules of interpretation that are used by the judiciary to make the laws clear and unambiguous. The reason behind the use of these set rules is that the court is not expected to interpret laws arbitrarily. These principles are evolved out of the continuous exercise of the court to interpret the different laws. 

The literal rule of interpretation

The literal rule of interpretation is also known as the grammatical rule of interpretation. It is the first rule to integrate the statutes and laws by the judiciary. Also, it is the most usable rule of interpretation.

The meaning of the literal rule of interpretation is to provide the natural and ordinary meaning to the words used in the law. The rule says that words must be read and understood in their literal sense. This rule gives reference to the supremacy of the parliament. 

Implementation of literal rule of interpretation

A single word can change the whole meaning of the law that is why it becomes more important to interpret that word without any mistakes. In litigation in which there are two meanings of one word are given by two advocates, now it is the duty of the court to decide which meaning is true and considerable. 

When a code starts doing a literal interpretation of statute,

Firstly the court will identify the natural, ordinary or popular meaning of that word. 

Second, the court will check whether:

  • Was the interpretation done by the court creating some absurdity or not? 
  • Does the interpretation solve the purpose of the statute? 
  • Is the interpretation contrary to the object of the statute? 

If the interpretation done by the court is not creating absurdity and it is not contrary to the object of the statute then the court will apply the literal rule of interpretation. 

But in a case, where the literal interpretation is done by the court is contrary or creates absurdity, then the court will apply another rule for the interpretation of that word. 

Case laws related to the rule of interpretation

R v Harris (1836) 7C & P446

In this case, a person bit the nose of a person. A criminal case was filed in the court of law where the court applied the literal rule of interpretation and held that the act of biting by the defendant does not come within the meaning of stab cut or wound because these words imply that there must be the use of an instrument. But in this case, there is no instrument used by the defendant. Therefore the defendant was not guilty and acquitted. 

Motipur zamindari private company limited vs the State of Bihar

The case was related to sugarcane. Whether the sugarcane was added into the category of green vegetable or not?  In this case, advocates give the argument that if we check the dictionary meaning of sugarcane, it is satisfying all the necessary conditions to become a green vegetable. So it should be added into the category of green vegetables. If the sugarcane comes into the category of green vegetables then Bihar sales tax 1947 will not be applicable on sugarcane. In this case, the Supreme Court said that the legislature has clearly mentioned which should be added into the green vegetables for which should not. The court rejected the plea of dictionary meaning and held that the sugar cane will come into the Bihar sales tax. The Supreme Court also held that the vegetables which are used in lunch and dinner will come into the category of green vegetables. In this case, the Supreme Court India checked the objective of the legislature behind the making of that law. 

Maqbool Hussain versus the State of Bombay

In this case, a person who was coming back to India was caught while carrying gold with him. He was carrying the gold against the government’s notification. So he was confiscated under section 167 (8) of the sea custom Act. 

After that, he was also charged under section 8 of the foreign exchange regulations act 1947. Then the person challenged his trial, on the ground of violation of Article 20 (2) of the Indian constitution which clearly says that no person shall be punished more than one time for the same offence. This rule is known as double jeopardy. 

The court used the literal interpretation rule and held that the Seas Act was neither a court nor any judicial tribunal. Hence, he was not prosecuted before for the offence and his trial for section 8 of the foreign exchange regulation Act 1947 was valid. 

Advantages of literal rule of interpretation

  • It enables a man to understand the statute.
  • The intention of the legislature to create the attitude is simple and unambiguous.
  • The literal rule of interpretation respect the supremacy of parliament
  • The law becomes predictable

Disadvantages of literal rule of interpretation

  • This rule cannot be applicable in every situation and circumstance.
  • The literal rule of interpretation can lead to unreasonable decision-making power
  • Our laws are written in the English language and the language is ambiguous. Sometimes one word has many different meanings

The golden rule of interpretation

The golden rule of interpretation is the most repeated and important question ever in the topic of interpretation of statute. 

The golden rule of interpretation is also known as:

  • Modifying rule of interpretation
  • British rule of interpretation

Meaning of golden rule of interpretation

The golden rule of interpretation is the modification of the literal or grammatical rules of interpretation. In ordinary cases, the judiciary must have found the true intention of the legislature by the words and laws used in the statute by finding the natural, grammatical or ordinary meaning of the word. The literal rule of interpretation is the first rule which is applied by the court to solve any ambiguity in the statute. But what is the remedy if the literal rule makes the absurdity, inconvenience, hardship or injustice in the law?

Here comes the golden rule of interpretation which modifies the literal rule of interpretation which is facing the problem of absurdity, inconvenience or injustice. The golden rule modifies the meaning of such words to such an extent to prevent such consequences by removing the absurdity, hardship, injustice and evasion from the word. While using the golden rule of interpretation it should be kept in mind that the court must modify the words to an extent or requirements only. The court cannot change the full statute. 

Case laws related to the golden rule of interpretation

Becke Vs Smith (1836)

In this case, Justice Parke stated that the golden rule of interpretation is very useful for the construction of a statute when the literal rule is not applicable. The golden rule can be used to interpret this tattoo while taking the true intention of the legislature. This rule can be used to avoid any inconvenience but not further. 

Bedford Vs Bedford in 1935

In this case law, the court has applied the golden rule in its wider sense. 

In a family, a son murdered his old mother and after the murder, he committed suicide. The case came into the court with the issue of whether the property of the mother will go to the mother’s relative or son’s descendants?

The administration of estate act 1925 gave the laws in two conditions:

  • What happens if there is a will?
  • What happens if there is no will?

In this case, the mother didn’t create any will of the property. Section 46 of the administration of estate act 1925 clearly says that the property will go to the “issue”.

If we were to do the literal interpretation of the word ISSUE, the property will go to her son. But according to the fact, the son also died. So the property will go to the descendants of the son. 

But in this case, the court gave a wider interpretation to the term ISSUE and said that no person should take any profit from a crime. Here the son murdered his mother so his descendants should not take the benefit from the crime the court decided to give the property in the favour of the mother’s relatives. 

Lee Vs Knapp (1967)

In this case, a person was parking his car in front of his home and he was taking the rest inside his house. Another person hits his car. After hitting the car he stopped the car and then moved on. When Lee came out from the house to see the accident the other person was moved on. Later Knapp’s manager came to Lee’s house and gave the details of Knap. Lee filed the case in court.

According to section 77 of the road traffic act 1960, it is the duty of the person to stop and furnish the particulars in case of an accident. 

The defendant challenged that he had stopped his car after the accident and then moved on. His mistake is just that he sent his manager with the details instead of going himself. 

The court asked the defendant that yes we agreed that you were stopped but the question is how long you were stopped. When the person whose car was parked in front of the house came out of the house, you were not there. 

In this case, if the court tried to make the interpretation with the literal rule then the person was not guilty because he had stopped and then moved on. But the court applied the golden rule of interpretation and said that STOP MEANS ONE SHOULD STOP FOR A REASONABLE TIME TO GIVE THE INFORMATION

Karnail Singh Vs Mahender Kaur

In this case, the father named Gunjan Singh had 6 children of which 6 were boys and 6 were girls. He made his will in 1970 on the name of three sons named Karnail Singh, Malkeet Singh and Ajit Singh. But his son Ajit Singh died in 1973. His father Gunjan Singh didn’t make any changes in the will and died after two years of his son’s death in 1975. 

Now the two sons Karnail Singh and Malkeet Singh filed the case in the court and section 109 of the Indian succession Act was challenged. 

They argued that the will should be in the name of them only, not in the name of the widow of Ajit Singh. They argued that their father wrote the will in the name of his sons only, not in the name of the widow of the son. 

In this case, the court applied the golden rule of interpretation and said that the property shall belong to Mahender Kaur who was the widow of Ajit Singh. The court gave the reason that if the father really wanted to change his will, the father had sufficient time (2 years) to change the will. The section of the act protects the legacy of the child or any other lineal descendant of a pre-deceased legatee. The property in the bill was given to Mahender Kaur. 

The mischief rule of interpretation

When the literal rule of interpretation is not applicable on the statute to remove the ambiguity and to know the intention of the legislature, the court can take other rules of interpretation where the mischief rule of interpretation is also part of these rules. 

Mischief rule of interpretation is also known as:

  •  Rule of beneficial construction. 
  • Heydon’s rule 
  • Purposive construction

Firstly, the rule of mischief was developed in Heydon’s case in 1584 and that is why this rule is also called Heydon’s rule. 

India has adopted this rule from English law. 

The application of the mischief rule of interpretation is done to prevent the misuse of the provisions given in the statute. 

Implementation of the mischief rule of interpretation

There are mainly four points that have to be followed while using the mischief rule of interpretation which are as follows:

  • What was the law (common law or statute) before the making of the statute?
  • What was the mischief or defects in the previous law?
  • What was the remedy that was sought by parliament?
  • What is the true reason behind the remedy?

These are four points that should be taken into consideration while doing the interpretation of statute with the help of the mischief rule. The main purpose of the rule of mischief is to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy. The best advantage of the rule of mischief is that it clauses loopholes in the law or statute. It allows the law to develop. 

And the disadvantage of the rule of mischief is that it allows the judiciary to apply their opinions which is an infringement of the separation of powers. 

Case laws related to the mischief rule of interpretation

Smith Vs Huges 1960 

This case is related to prostitution in London. The prostitutes were soliciting in the streets and creating problems for the people. 

So the legislature made the street offences act 1959. Section 1 (1) of the act said that prostitutes are not allowed on the street. After the enforcement of this act, the prostitutes start soliciting from the windows and balcony. 

Now there were two situations that 

  • The statute was stopping them from soliciting on streets 
  • The prostitutes were soliciting through the windows and balconies

A charge sheet was filed against the prostitutes and the case came into the court of law. The court applied the rule of mischief. The court said that although the prostitutes were not soliciting on the streets, the mischief rule of interpretation must be applied to prevent the soliciting by prostitutes in London. Hence, the court of law held that the balconies and windows were also covered in the word Street. After giving the judgement the charge sheet filed against the prostitutes were held valid. 

Pyare Lal Vs Ramchandra

In this case, Pyarelal was a businessman who used to sell the sweetened supari which was a sweater with the help of an artificial sweetener and it was not healthy. The charge sheet was filed against the Pyarelal under Food Adulteration Act. Pyarelal took the plea that the Supari is not a food item. After checking all the facts of the case and wordings of the statute the court held that the dictionary meaning is not always the correct meaning of the word. The court held that the food is consumable by mouth and early. He was held liable and punished.

The doctrine of harmonious construction

According to the doctrine of harmonious construction, the conflict between two or more statutes or two or more than two provisions of the same act must be interpreted in such a manner that should give effect to both the statutes and provisions of the same act. 

In simple words, it is the duty of the court to interpret two or more inconsistent provisions of the same statute in a way so that both the provisions can survive or both remain in force. 

Where it becomes impossible to use the doctrine of harmonious construction, the court’s decision regarding those provisions shall prevail.

The objective of the doctrine of harmonious construction

The object of harmonious construction is to avoid the conflict between the provisions of a statute by making some changes so that they harmonize with each other. 

Principles of harmonious construction

The Supreme Court of India laid down the main five principles of the rule of harmonious construction, giving the landmark judgement in the case of CIT vs Hindustan bulk carriers.

So let’s read all these principles of harmonious construction:

  1. It is the duty of the court to avoid the clash between the provisions of a statute by harmonizing them in a way that both the provisions remain in force without any conflict.
  2. One provision of the statute cannot be used to defeat the other provision of these same acts unless decode doesn’t find a way to reconcile the differences between them. 
  3. If it is impossible to reconcile both the provisions in that case the court must interpret both the provisions in such a way so that both provisions remain in force. 
  4. While doing the harmonious construction between the provisions of a statute, the court must keep in mind that the interpretation should not reduce the power of one provision and give more power to another provision. 
  5. Harmonious construction cannot be used to destroy any statutory provision or to render its effects. 

Case laws related to the rule of harmonious construction

Shankari Prasad vs Union of India

In this case, article 13 (2) and Article 368 of the constitution of India were contrary to each other. 

The Supreme Court India held in that case that Article 368 gives the power to parliament to enact the laws. But according to article 13, the parliament cannot take away the fundamental rights given under the constitution of India, like the right to equality etc. while exercising the power given under Article 368 of the Indian constitution.

Internal Aids to Interpretation

After knowing about the interpretation of statute, a question comes in that what are the internal aids to interpretation? What are the external aids to interpretation? 

Internal Aids to Interpretation

There are two types of aids for the interpretation of statutes: internal aids and external aids.

Suppose, you are going to give an exam on the constitution of India. From where you will take the help to pass the exam? Obviously, you will find the book of the constitution of India and read the articles given under the book. This is called internal aids to statutes because you are taking the help internally to understand the provisions of the constitution of India. 

But, if you need to make a presentation on the constitution of India, now you take the help of different research papers and YouTube videos to make the presentation. Here, the use of research papers and YouTube videos are external aids to make the presentation.

Similarly, when the court interprets the statute by taking the help of internal sources given under that statute, it is called internal aids. But when a judge interprets the state youth by taking the help of external sources like dictionaries etc., this is called external aids to interpretation.

In this article, we are going to focus on internal aids to interpretation. We will discuss all the internal sources which can be used to interpret the statute. 

According to Keeton, he said that function of judges related to interpretation includes-

  • Firstly- a Judge has to decide the exact meaning of the legislature which is actually said. 
  • Secondly- he must find out the real intention of the legislature to say that word.

So let’s start with each and every internal aid to interpretation of statutes. 

Title

The court can use the title of the act as an internal aid. It gives the description of the act. There are two types of titles that can be used by the court for the interpretation of the statute that are:

Short title

This title is the name of the act. It is used for identification and to give the reference of the act. The short title consists of the name of the act and the year of passing that act. For example- the Indian contract Act 1872 and the Indian Evidence Act 1872.

Sometimes, the short title also shows the year of the amendment. However, there is no role of short title for the interpretation of the statute. This is used just to give the reference of the act. 

The year of passing the act shows the enforcement year of that act and it helps to understand that this act came into force in that specific year. The laws given under this act will be enforceable from that date. 

Long title

The long title of the act is mentioned under certain Acts and it is a perfect guide to identify the object, scope and purpose of the act. 

The long title of the statute is used to identify the meaning of the Act. The court of law uses a long title to remove the confusion in the meaning of the act. 

For example- the long title of the civil procedure code says “An act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the procedure of the Courts of civil judicature”.

The long title of an Act is a part of the Act and it is admissible as an internal aid to its construction. 

But there are many observations in the earlier English cases in which the court said that the title is not a part of the statute and it should be removed from the internal aids.

But after some time the court settled the title as internal aids to interpretation of the statute. The court said that the title can be used for the purple to know about the general scope of the act although it cannot override the clear meaning of the law.

Key points related to the title as an internal aid to interpretation

  • The title can be used as internal aid.
  • It cannot be used for interpretation where the language is simple and precise 
  • It cannot be used in the case where there is only one meaning of a word
  • The title can be used as internal aid only when there is an ambiguity in the language of the law.
  • The title cannot prevail over a word that is giving a clear meaning.
  • It cannot be used to narrow down the plain meaning of the word used in a statute.
  • The long title cannot control the express operative provisions of the Act.

In the case of Manohar Lal versus State of Punjab, the court used a long title for the interpretation. The court said that the scope of the act can be decided by taking the help of a long title. The court also said in this case that the title can be used to identify the scope of the act and it indicates the main purpose of the act but the Long title cannot control the express operative provisions of the Act. 

Kedar Nath Vs State of Bengal

The case was related to the West Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act 1947. The court took the help of a long title and interpreted section 4 of the act and said that it is the discretionary power of the state government to try any offence under the special procedure in special courts.

Amrendra Kumar Mohapatra versus State of Odisha

The Supreme Court of India held in this case that 8the title of the act is an important part of enactment and can be used to determine the general scope of the legislation. But the true nature of the enactment has always to be determined on the basis of its substance only.

Preamble

The preamble is one of the best internal aids to interpret the statute. A preamble of an act contains the aim and objectives of the act. It can be used to understand the real intention of the maker of the statute. 

A preamble is a key to unlock the mind of the makers of law

The preamble is an introductory part given in starting the statute which constants the aim and objectives which are given under the act. 

For example, the preamble to the constitution of India provides the aim and objective of the constitution of India. It talks about the fundamental rights and duties given by the people to the people of India.

The use of the preamble as internal aid can be done in a situation where:

  • The meaning of the enactment is not clear
  • There are more than one meaning is formed

The preamble of an act does not extend its scope nor restrict the meaning of the Act. 

Usually, the preamble is mentioned on the first page of the act but in modern time the Acts does not pass with a preamble. It is reducing the importance of the preamble as internal aid. It is the main reason that the role of the preamble for interpretation has decreased in recent times.

In the case of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Vedic Vishwa Vidyalaya Vs State of Madhya Pradesh (2013), the Supreme Court of India said that if the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, the preamble cannot be used for interpretation or construction. 

Rashtriya mill Mazdoor Sangh versus National Textile Corporation the case was related to the gratuity to an employee who has ceased to be in employment.

In the judgement, the Court observed that the help of the preamble as internal aid only be taken in a case where the provision is unambiguous. The preamble cannot be taken to expand or restrict the scope of the act.

In the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, the Supreme Court of India said that the preamble to the constitution of India does not restrict the parliament to amend the constitution under Article 368. But the Supreme Court also said that the parliament of India cannot alter the basic structure of the constitution of India.

Global energy Ltd Vs Central electricity regulatory commission

The High Court gave the verdict in this case that the objective of legislation should be read in the context of the preamble of that Act.

Limitation of the preamble as an internal aid to construction

  • The court cannot use the preamble as internal aid if the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous
  • The preamble of the state cannot restrict or extend the meaning and scope of the words
  • If a conflict arises between the preamble and section of the same statute, the section shall prevail.

Key points related to the preamble as an internal aid

  • The preamble contains the aim and objective of the statute.
  • It can be used as internal aid in which the meaning of the enactment is not clear
  • The preamble of the statute cannot be used as internal aid if the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous.
  • The court may take the help of the preamble if there is more than one interpretation possible.
  • Most of the latest acts do not pass with a preamble. 
  • The preamble of an act cannot be used to restrict or extend the meaning and scope of the language used in the Act.
  • If there is any conflict between the preamble and a section of the statute, the section of that act or statute will prevail.

Marginal Notes

The marginal notes are also known as side notes because these are inserted at the side of the sections. These notes express the effect of the section but are not considered as part of the statute. 

In recent times the code does not apply margin notes for interpretation; the reason is that the marginal notes are not added by the legislatures. The marginal notes are added after the enactment of the provision by other people who are not even legislatures. 

But in exceptional cases where the marginal notes are inserted by the legislature of that act, it can be used as internal aid. In many cases, the Supreme Court of India has used the marginal notes inserted by the constituent assembly under the Indian constitution to interpret the provisions given under the constitution of India. 

Key points of marginal notes as an internal aid to interpretation

  • Marginal notes are also known as side notes
  • It expresses the effect of that particular section
  • The court really use the marginal notes
  • It is not necessary that the marginal notes are inserted by the legislature
  • The marginal notes are used for interpretation if there is any ambiguity for more than one construction is possible in a particular section of the act. 
  • These notes cannot be used in a case where the provision is clear and unambiguous

In the case of the Bengal immunity company vs State of Bihar, the Supreme Court of India used the marginal notes to interpret article 286 of the constitution. The Supreme Court held that the marginal notes given in article 286 of the constitution is part of the constitution and hence it could be used for the interpretation of that article. 

Headings

Headings are known as the preamble of a section or a group of sections. These are put at the start of the group of sections related to the particular part of the act. 

For example, chapter VI of the code of criminal procedure 1973 deals with the process to compel appearance.

There are two types of headings:

  • Heading of a section
  • Heading of a group of sections

Use of Headings

The headings are used in cases where the meaning of the provision is not clear. The heading of a section for a group of sections is as important as the preamble of a statute. But where there is no ambiguity in the meaning of the provision, the heading cannot be used as internal aid for interpretation for that section for a group of sections.

It is not the legislature who passed the headings, the headings are subsequently inserted in the Act after the bill has become law.

Key points of headings as internal aids to interpretation:

  • Headings are known as the preamble of the section or a group of sections.
  • A heading of a set of sections cannot be used to interpret another set of sections.
  • It can be used for construction or interpretation if there is any ambiguity in the language of the section on a particular group of sections. 
  • If the meaning of the section is clear and unambiguous, the court will not use headings for interpretation.

In the case of Bulma Vs IRC, the Supreme Court of India held that the chapter headings can be used as internal aids for interpretation if there is any ambiguous provision.

Novartis Vs Union of India

In this case, section 5, section 3(d), section 2 (1) (j), (ja) and section 83 of the Patent Act 1970 were in subject. The Supreme Court of India took the help of sectional headings to interpret these sections.

Bhinka Vs Charan Singh

This was a case related to the tenant and landlord. The respondent sought to evict the appellant under section 180 of the up tenancy Act 1939. The Supreme Court held in this case that section 180 applies only in those cases where the landlord seeks to evict a person who has no right of possession. The Supreme Court uses the heading of the section which reads: ejectment of the person occupying land without title.

Definition or interpretation clauses

Definitions or interpretation clauses in a statute are added by the legislature. The reason to add a definition or interpretation clause in a statute is to extend the natural meaning of some words which are being used in that statute.

The definition or interpretation clause in a statute gives the definition of the words which are not clear. This close gives them meaning. The meaning of a word given in the definition or interpretation clauses will remain the same throughout the statute. There is only one exception that the court will not use that meaning if it results in an absurdity while interpreting the provisions of that statute. 

The definition given in one act or statute cannot be used for the same word used in another statute. However, if the act defines that the definition of the word given in one statute can be used for or another statute, in that case, the court can use the same definition to interpret another statute. But for that both the acts should be in pari materia. 

Key points related to the definition as an internal aid of interpretation

  • The definition or interpretation clauses in an act give the meaning of words that are being used in that act.
  • The definition given in the definition clauses can be used for the whole statute.
  • If the definition given in under the interpretation clause shows any absurdity the court will not use that definition for the interpretation.
  • Definitions of a word given in one act cannot be used the same for the other acts.
  • The definition of the words given in one act can only be used for another act if both the acts are in pari materia.

In the case of Ramanlal Bhailal Patel vs State of Gujarat, the Supreme Court of India observed that the use of the word includes indicates the intention to enlarge the meaning of the word used in the statute. 

Avatar Singh vs State

In this case, the appellant Avatar Singh was charged that he committed the theft of electricity and was punishable under 379 of the code. The Supreme Court ruled that the electricity being energy does not come under movable property as per section 22 of the Indian penal code. But the theft of electricity is an offence under section 39 of the Indian electricity Act 1910. Thus, as per section 39 of the Indian Electricity Act, the theft of electricity is punishable under section 379 of the Indian penal code. 

State of Haryana Vs Raghuveer Dayal

The Supreme Court observed that the word shall is ordinarily mandatory, but sometimes it is not so important to interpret if the consequences after the interpretation are not so demanding. 

Pradyat Kumar Bose vs The Hon’ble The Chief Justice of Kolkata

The case was related to the registrar of the High Court. He was dismissed by the chief justice of the High Court. He challenged in the court that the chief justice had no power to pass the dismissal orders. The Supreme Court of India held in that case that the constitution of India has empowered the chief justice of the High Court that he can appoint the registrar of the High Court. The power is given by the constitution of India to appointment also includes the power of dismissal. 

State of Bombay vs Hospital Mazdoor Sabha

In this case, the Supreme Court observed that sometimes the interpretation should be done in an extended way and not in a restrictive way. 

Mohan Singh Vs international airport authority of India

In this case, it was observed by the Supreme Court of India that the word shall is mandatory in nature. But to provide justice in a good way, the word shall be read as May.

Proviso

The provisos are given after the main provision of the section. The provisos start with the words “provided that”. The provisos are added in the sections to accept something from the enacting clause or to limit the applicability of the section. It means the providers are just to qualify something or exclude something from that section. 

The reason behind the proviso is that the connecting part of the section would have included the subject matter given under proviso.

If the language of the proviso clearly shows that it had more extensive operation than the main section, such a wider effect must be given to it. 

If there is any contradiction between the main enactment and proviso, the proviso should prevail over the main section. The principle behind this rule is that the proviso speaks the last intention of the legislature. 

The proviso has no independent existence, it is totally dependent on the main enactment. If the main enactment is repealed by the court, the provision of that enactment will also be repealed automatically. 

Key points of the proviso as internal aids to interpretation

  • Provisos are given at the end of the section.
  • It speaks to the Last intention of the legislature.
  • If there is any confusion between proviso and main enactment, the proviso will prevail. 
  • If the language of the section is clear and ambiguous, the court should not use the proviso as internal aid.
  • The proviso does not have any independent existence of its own.

T Devadasan Vs union of India

In this case, Article 16 of the Indian constitution was in question-related to the reservation. The Supreme Court held that clause (4) of Article 16 was a sort of a proviso to the main enactment under clause (1) of Article 16 and could not be so interpreted as to destroy the main provision. 

Illustrations

The language of the law is not simple. Sometimes it becomes difficult to understand the language of a statute. To solve this problem, sometimes we find the illustrations given after the main provision of the section. The illustrations help the person to understand the intention of the legislature. 

There is a famous maxim “EXAMPLA ILLUSTRANT, NON-RESTRINGENT LEGIM” it means the examples and illustrations only illustrate the main provision, but do not narrow the scope of a law. 

In simple words, the illustration can only be used to understand the provisions of the act but illustrations cannot be used to narrow down, modify or defeat the scope of the section. 

Key points of Illustration as an internal aid to interpretation

  • Illustrations are given after the main body of the section
  • It can be used to understand the provision of the act
  • There can be more than one illustration
  • It helps to understand the intention of the legislature.
  • Illustrations cannot be used to narrow down the meaning of the section
  • If the language of the section is clear and unambiguous, the illustration cannot be used as an internal aid to interpretation.

In the case of Mahesh Chand Sharma Vs Rajkumari Sharma the Supreme Court said that illustration is a part of the section. The illustration helps to elucidate the main principle of this section. 

Muralidhar Chatterjee vs International Film Company

The Supreme Court observed that, while interpreting a section, the illustration of that section cannot be ignored. 

Exceptions and saving clauses

Exceptions

The legislature adds the exceptions in the section with the purpose to exempt something which would otherwise fall within the Ambit of the main provision. 

For example, there are five exceptions given under section 304b Indian penal code which defines murder.

An exception in a section affirms that the thing not covered under the exception clause is covered under the main provision. 

Some decisions related to the exceptions are given on the principle that an exception is the latter will of the legislature so it must prevail over the substantive portion of the section. 

Saving clauses

Saving clauses are used in the cases of repeal and re-enactment of a statute. 

It is normally inserted in a repealing statute. If a saving clause is conflicting with the main part of the statute, the main part of the statute will prevail and the saving clause will be rejected. 

Key points of exceptions and saving clauses

  • Exceptions are added in the section to exempt something from the section
  • There can be any number of exceptions for a particular section
  • Exceptions show that the thing which is not covered under the exceptions will be covered by  the main provision
  • Saving clauses are used in the cases of repeal and re-enactment of a statute. 
  • If there will be any conflict between the main provisions and saving clauses, the main provision of the act will prevail. 

In the case of the Collector of customs Vs Modi rubber limited the Supreme Court held that whenever a provision in the nature of an exception is given with the principal clause, it must be construed with regard to the principal clause.

Explanations

The respiration is added to a section so that it can clarify the meaning of certain words. Explanations remove the uncertainty from the meaning of certain words which may arise in future. 

Explanations are not added to expand the meaning of the section but it only tries to remove the confusion in the understanding of the meaning of that section. 

There are many Indian Acts that have explanations attached to the sections given under the acts. For example, section 108 of the Indian penal code defines the word abettor which is used in the cases of abetment. This section has 5 explanations attached to it.

It is not necessary that the explanations are inserted at the time of the enactment of that particular statute, these can also be inserted after the enactment. 

For example, section 405 of the Indian penal code defines the criminal breach of trust and it has two explanations which were inserted in 1973 and 1975 respectively. One section can have one or more than one explanation depending upon the need for explanations in the section. 

Explanations cannot modify or restrict the language of the section. Also, if the section is providing a clear meaning of the words, the explanations cannot be used as internal aids to interpretation.

Key points of the explanation as an internal aid of interpretation

  • Explanations are the part of the sections
  • The purpose of adding explanations in the Act is to explain the meaning and intention of the section.
  • If there is any absurdity in the main section, the explanation of that action can be used as an internal aid to interpreting that particular section.
  • If the meaning of the section is clear and unambiguous, the court cannot use explanations for the interpretation of the section. 
  • There is any confusion between the main provision and explanations attached to it, it is the duty of the court to try the harmonious construction for them

Bengal immunity company vs State of Bihar

The Supreme Court of India observed in this case that the explanations given in a section are part of that section. This section and explanations should be read together to know the true meaning of the provision. 

Hardeo motor transport Vs state of Madhya Pradesh

The Supreme Court observed that the explanations cannot enlarge the scope and effect of a provision. Explanations can only be used to understand the object and scope of the main provision. 

Schedules

Schedules help in the enactment so that it could properly work. It deals with how to claim or rights under the act are to be asserted. It can also help to identify how powers conferred under an act are to be exercised. 

The schedules may also contain some subjects in the form of a list. For example, the seventh schedule of the constitution of India gives the subjects on which the state and union government can make the laws. 

Schedules are the internal parts of the statute. The court can take the help of schedules for the purpose of interpreting the main body of the act. 

Sometimes it happens that the court needs to interpret the schedules also, in that situation, the court can take help from the main body of the act for the interpretation of schedules. 

Key points of schedules under internal aid to interpretation

  • Schedules are the internal part of the statute.
  • Schedules help in the enactment so that it could properly work.
  • The court can take the help of schedule to interpret the main body of the statute as internal aid of interpretation.
  • If the court needs to interpret the schedule, the court will take the help of the main provision of the act. 

The Supreme Court of India held in the case of Aphali pharmaceuticals limited vs State of Maharashtra that “if there is the clash between the main body of the act and schedule, the main body of the act will prevail over the schedule”

Jagdish Prasad vs State of Rajasthan

The Supreme Court of India gave its judgement that “the deletion of the schedule will not wipe out the effect and spirit of the provisions of an act. 

Punctuations

The punctuations are given in the sections in the form of colon, semi-colon, full stop, dash, brackets, hyphen etc. 

In the earlier times, the statutes or Acts were passed in very simple language and without the use of punctuations. So it was easy for the court to interpret the statute and give a simple and natural meaning. But in modern times, the language of the act and statutes are tough to read and it contains lots of punctuation which creates the difficulty to give the natural meaning. 

Use of punctuation for interpretation

The court first looks at the provisions as they are punctuated provisions passed by the legislature; if the court finds that there is no ambiguity while integrating the section with punctuation, they will interpret the section. 

But in a situation where the court feels that the language of the section is not clear, the court will read the section without any punctuation. If the meaning of the section is clear without the punctuations, the court will interpret that section without attaching any punctuations. 

Key points in punctuations as an internal aid to interpretation

  • Colon, semi-colon, full stop, dash, brackets, hyphen etc. are known as punctuations.
  • Punctuations were not used in the old statutes.
  • The court will not remove the punctuation if the meaning of the section is clear.
  • The court will remove the punctuations if the meaning of the section is not clear.
  • Punctuations cannot be used to control the plain meaning of the section. 

The Supreme Court of India held in the case of Ashwani Kumar Vs Arabinda Bose, that the punctuations are part of the section, but punctuations cannot be regarded as the controlling element for that particular act. If the section is giving a simple meaning to the text, the punctuation cannot control that. 

The Supreme Court held in the Dadaji Alias Dina vs Sukhdeobabu & Ors case that punctuation marks by themselves do not control the meaning of a statute if the meaning is obvious.

In the case of Geetika Panwar Vs the government of NCT of Delhi, the semicolon was placed after the words ‘administration of justice’ in entry 11A of the concurrent list in the seventh schedule of the constitution of India was in question. 

Delhi High Court provided its judgement and held that punctuation marks cannot be allowed to control the plain meaning of the text. 

FAQ related to the internal aid to interpretation of statute

What is the meaning of internal aids to interpretation?

Any internal aid taken within the statute for the interpretation of any provision of the statute is called internal aids to interpretation. The internal aids to interpretation are contained in the statute itself. These are the part of the statute. Internal aids are the important aid to interpret the statute.

What are the internal aids to interpretation?

The internal aids include the title of the statute, preamble, headings, marginal notes illustrations, punctuations, provisos, definitions or interpretation clauses, explanations and schedules.

Can marginal not be used as internal aids to interpretation?

Yes, where the marginal notes are inserted by the legislature of that act, it can be used as internal aid.

The court uses the interpretation whenever there is any ambiguity in a provision. It is the main function of the court of law to remove the ambiguity from the provisions.

Internal aids are the reliable source of interpretation”. These are the part of the Act itself and used by the court of law whenever it needs to interpret some provisions of that act. 

Internal aids are known as the first and useful option for interpretation. The use of external aids for interpretation can only be done if the internal aids have failed to interpret the statute. If the provision is giving its simple and natural meaning, there is no need to use internal aids for interpretation.

External Aids to Interpretation

The interpretation of statutes is an important function of the judiciary to remove ambiguity from the statute or act. The court used internal aids and external aids for the interpretation of the statute. When internal aids to interpretation do not work properly, the court uses the external aids to interpretation.

External Aids to Interpretation

The help taken from within the statute for interpretation is called internal aids to interpretation whereas the help taken from outside sources for interpretation is called external aids to interpretation. 

Other than the internal aids interpretation, there are some other ads that are not part of the statute. The court, when it thinks that internal aids are not sufficient for the interpretation of a statute, takes the help of these aids which are not a part of the statute.

When the court takes help from outside the statute to interpret any provision of the statute, it is called external aids to interpretation.

The use of dictionaries, textbooks, historical background, legislative history and other materials comes under the external aids to interpretation.

In the case of G Sekar vs Geetha, the Supreme Court of India held that external aids can be used for the interpretation, but external aids cannot prevail over the clear and unambiguous provision of the act.

So let’s discuss each and every external aid of interpretation.

Dictionaries

As per the rule of law, the word used in the statute should be interpreted in its ordinary sense. Dictionary provides the ordinary and natural meaning of a word. 

Use of dictionary as an external aid to interpretation

When a word given under the statute is not defined by the statute itself, the court can refer to the dictionaries to find the simple and general meaning of that word. 

In a situation where the dictionary is providing more than one meaning of a word, the code should always check the scope and object of the act. 

Limitation on the interpretation by dictionaries

  • The dictionary meaning cannot override the clear meaning of a word
  • If the statute itself is giving the definition of a word, the dictionary meaning cannot override that definition. 

Textbooks

The court has the power to accept or reject the meaning given in the textbooks. 

In the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala, there were large numbers of textbooks referred to in the case. The Supreme Court gave its majority opinion that it is the discretionary power of the court to follow the opinion quoted under the textbooks because the meaning given in the textbooks is their opinion of the jurist and scholars.

Historical background

In 1584, the court gave four rules in Heydon’s Case, these rules were

  • What was the common law before the making of the act?
  • What was the mistake in common law?
  • What remedy is provided by the law?
  • What was the true reason behind the remedy?

These are the four questions that should be kept in mind while using the historical background as an external aid to interpretation. These questions help the court to identify the true intention of the legislature behind the enactment of the act. 

In the case of Express Newspapers private limited vs union of India, the Supreme Court of India clearly said that the history of the legislation should be looked at by the court in case of ambiguity in the act. 

Legislative history

The legislative history is considered as drafting of the bill, debates and amendments done for the act. 

In the past, the court used to look at the legislative history of the statute while interpreting the statute. The reason behind this was to know the true intention of the legislature. 

But in the present time, the use of legislative history as external aid is decreasing. 

In AK Gopalan vs the State of Madras, the Supreme Court clearly said that the debates done in the parliament for a bill cannot be used for the interpretation of the statute. 

In the case of Kesavananda Bharti vs the State of Kerala, many judges were in favour that the speeches in the constituent assembly can be used to find the true intention of the framers of the constitution of India

Social, political and economic development

The interpretation of a statute should be done including the circumstances and situations which were not present at the time when the law was made. 

For example, as per the essentials of a valid contract, the acceptance of an offer can be communicated through the letter. But in today’s time, we can communicate acceptance through email or mobile. 

The acceptance done through email and mobile is considered a valid acceptance. However, it was not written in the Act when it was made. 

SP Gupta vs Union of India

It was stated by the Supreme Court of India that a statute must be interpreted by including social, economic and political development. 

Judicial decisions

The decision given in the decided cases is known as judicial decisions the decision given by the Supreme Court of India is binding for all the courts and tribunals in the territory of India. 

Conditions for the use of judicial decisions as external aid

  • The decision must be given by the Indian Court
  • If the decision is from the foreign Court, it should be ensured that such a foreign country is following the same judicial system as India. 
  • If the foreign country is not using the same judicial system as India, the decision of the foreign Court cannot be taken as an internal aid to interpretation. 

Bengal immunity company vs the state of Bihar

The Supreme Court of India held in this case that the previous decisions are binding on all the Courts in India. But the Supreme Court of India is not binding for that decision because the Supreme Court is free to depart from its previous decision for valid reasons. 

Foreign decisions

Most of our state awards are modelled on the previous English statutes. Therefore we have many eggs which are based on English jurisprudence. 

The court can use the foreign decision for the interpretation. But the court will always give preference to the decision given by the Indian courts. 

MC Mehta vs Union of India

The Supreme Court held in this case that the court is not bound by the decisions of the foreign courts. 

References to other statutes

Sometimes it happens that a definition for the meaning of the word is provided in another statute, in that situation the court can take help from another statute for interpretation.

But there are some conditions that should be followed by both the statutes. 

In Pari Materia

  • Both the statutes should be dealing with the same subject matter, or
  • Both the statutes should be formed from the same system. 

Reference from repealed Act

The reference for the interpretation can be taken from the repealed act. For example, if the court needs to interpret something in the new company act 2013, the court can take the reference from the company Act 1956.

Government publications and reports

There are various types of government publications and reports which talk about the laws. The court can take the help of government publications and report as an external aid for the construction of statutes. 

Other external aids to interpretation

There are other types of external aids to interpretation that can be used by the court to interpret any provision of a statute. 

  • Translation

You may have seen that there are many Latin terms used in the law. The court can take the help by translating these Latin terms for a maxim to find the meaning of the word. 

  • Internet websites

The code may also use the internet websites as external aids to interpretation.

FAQ related to external aids to interpretation

What is the meaning of external aids to interpretation?

Any help taken by the court from the outside of a statute to interpret its provisions of the statute is called external aids to interpretation. External aids are very useful tools for interpretation.

When the use of external aids of interpretation is done?

If the internal aids are not adequate to interpret the provision of the act, the court takes the help of external aids to interpret that provision. 

The interpretation of the statute is important to give the clear meaning of a word and to find the true intention of the legislature. 

When the internal aids to interpretation become incapable of removing the ambiguity from a provision, the court takes the help of external aids to interpretation so that justice can be served. 

Conclusion

The interpretation of statute is a vast topic that is used by the judicial system to interpret the laws enacted in India. The purpose of the judiciary is to grant justice to all citizens and non-citizens of India. By interpreting the statute, the courts are ensuring the rights of the citizens. 

It is impossible that all the laws made today will be capable of solving future problems also. Similarly, the laws made by the parliament of India need interpretation for changes in the laws from time to time. The judiciary plays its role by giving the clear meaning of the word by determining the real intention of the legislature while enacting the laws. All these rules of interpretation are helpful to interpret the statute in a way that creates balance in society. 


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