- The golden rule of interpretation is a modification of the literal rule of interpretation.
- Where the literal rule lays emphasis on the literal meaning of the words used in legal language, the golden rule interprets the words in such a way that the absurdities and anomalies of literal interpretation are avoided.
- The golden rule modifies the language as well as the grammar of the words used in statutes and other documents of interpretation, thus providing the actual meaning of the words. It brings forth the context in which the words have been used in a particular stance.
- The rule says that to start with we shall go by the literal rule, however, if the interpretation given through the literal rule leads to some or any kind ambiguity, injustice, inconvenience, hardship, inequity, then in all such events the literal meaning shall be discarded and interpretation shall be done in such a manner that the purpose of the legislation is fulfilled.
- The literal rule follows the concept of interpreting the natural meaning of the words used in the statute. But if interpreting natural meaning leads to any sought of repugnance, absurdity or hardship, then the court must modify the meaning to the extent of injustice or absurdity caused and no further to prevent the consequence.
- The golden rule can be put forward as a compromise between the literal rule and the mischief rule. It follows the path of literal interpretation by giving the statute its ordinary meaning. At the same time, when the literal interpretation leads to an irrational result unlikely to the ends of the act, the court can deviate from the literal sense. Also while using the golden rule the court takes into consideration the interest of the public at large and hence, abides by the public policy.
- An illustration of the use of the rule in its wider as well as its narrower sense is given below:
- If there is a sign that say – “Do not use the elevators in case of fire”, the literal interpretation would mean never to use the elevator while there is a fire. However, this interpretation is absurd and what the sign truly tries to convey is to prevent using the elevators when a fire is nearby.
This rule may be used in two ways.
It is applied most frequently in a narrow sense where there is some ambiguity or absurdity in the words themselves. For example, imagine there may be a sign saying “Do not use lifts in case of fire.” Under the literal interpretation of this sign, people must never use the lifts, in case there is a fire. However, this would be an absurd result, as the intention of the person who made the sign is obviously to prevent people from using the lifts only if there is currently a fire nearby.
LEE VS KNAPP 1967
In this case, interpretation of the world ‘stop’ was involved. Under section 77(1) of the road traffic Act, 1960 a driver causing an accident shall stop after the accident.
In this case, the driver stopped for a moment after causing an accident and then moved away.
Applying the Golden rule, the Court held that requirement of the section had not been followed by the driver as he had not stopped for a reasonable time of period requiring. interested persons to make necessary inquiries for him about the accident.
The second use of the golden rule is in a wider sense, to avoid a result that is obnoxious to principles of public policy, even where words have only one meaning.
Bedford vs Bedford, 1935,
This interesting case highlighted the use of this rule. It concerned a case where a son murdered his mother and committed suicide. The courts were required to rule on who then inherited the estate, the mother’s family, or the son’s descendants. The mother had not made a will and under the Administration of Justice Act 1925 her estate would be inherited by her next of kin, i.e., her son. There was no ambiguity in the words of the Act, but the court was not prepared to let the son who had murdered his mother benefit from his crime. It was held that the literal rule should not apply and that the golden rule should be used to prevent the repugnant situation of the son inheriting. The court held that if the son inherits the estate that would amount to profiting from a crime and that would be repugnant to the act.
Roxann Sharma vs Arun Sharma 2015 :
Interpretation of section 7 and 14 of the Guardian and Wards Act 1890 and the proviso to Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act 1956 were involved.
In the instant case the mother of the minor child is a postgraduate from a renowned foreign university and was holding college professorship in a foreign country and there was allegation of her suffering from bipolar disorder and allegation against the father was that he was alcoholic, drug addict & unemployed and hence not in a better position to keep the custody of the minor child. The court held that the custody of the child below the age of 5 years should be given to his/her mother unless father discloses cogent reasons that are indicative of likelihood of welfare and interest of child being undermined or jeopardized if custody is retained by mother.
State of Punjab v. Qaiser Jehan Begum (1963)
Facts of the case
- The respondents were the owners of 55 bighas and 7 biswas of land in two villages.
- Their lands along with nearby lands were acquired by the appellant for his use.
- The respondents were not informed about the acquisition and were not present at the time of the award.
- The Collector awarded compensation at the rate of Rs. 96 per acre but the respondents a year later contended the valuation of their lands. The senior subordinate judge rejected their application as it was already 6 months since the sale and was thus beyond the period of limitation as per Section 18of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
Issue of the case : Whether the limitation period starts from the day of sale or from the day of getting the knowledge of the award.
- The Supreme Court held that the parties must first come to know the award in order to make an application for reference under Section 18. The parties were not informed of the award by notice.
- Since the parties got to know of the award on a later date, the limitation period for Section 18 would start from this date and not the date on which the compensation was awarded.
- In this case, the Court applied the golden rule to modify the meaning of the provision to include the start of the limitation period from the date of receiving the notice of award.
G. Narayanaswami v. G. Pannerselvam and Ors. (1972)
The appellant in the present case stood in an election of the Madras Legislative Council from the Madras District Graduates’ Constituency to be held on 11th April 1970. The appellant’s election was set aside by the Madras High Court. The appellant had only passed the High School Leaving Examination which did not make him a “Graduate” and hence the order of the court. The ground of setting aside the election, according to the Hon’ble High Court was the absurdity and destructiveness of the very concept of representation of “especially qualified persons”.
The term “electorate”, used in Article 171(3), (a), (b) and (c) has neither been defined in the constitution or by any enactment of the legislation. However, Section 2(1) (a) of the Representation of People Act defines “elector” in relation to a constituency as a person whose name is enrolled in the constituency’s electoral roll and is not subject to disqualifications mention in Section 16 of the Act. Section 16 of the Act did not include any element that was the ground of setting aside set b the Madras High Court
Hence, the main issue in front of the Apex Court was; whether the representative of the Graduates should also be a graduate to stand in the election?
The Apex court stated that the language and the legislative history of Article 171 and 173 of the Constitution as well as the Section 6 of the Representation of People Act enables it to presume a deliberate omission of the qualificational requirement of a representative. It further added that no absurdity arises as a result of such presumption. The Hon’ble court held that by adding a necessary or implied condition to become a representative of graduates, the High Court had invaded the legislative sphere and added that such defect could only be removed by law made by any enactment of the Parliament. The court concluded by saying that the appellant possesses all the qualifications laid down for such a candidate and set aside the Madras High Court’s Judgment.
Case Comment/ Analysis
The Hon’ble Apex Court incorporated the Golden Rule of interpretation to interpret the laws at issue and subsequently deviate from the judgment of the High Court. The court construed the term “electorate” in a plain and ordinary manner to mean a body of persons who elect. It held in its judgment that within its ambit, the term does not contain any extended notion. Thus the court interpreted the law in a way by which the term “electorate” in the Constitution, could not, by itself impose a limit upon the field of choice of members of the electorate by requiring that the person to be chosen must also be a member of the electorate.
Karnail Singh vs Mohinder Kaur 2003
In this case a testator had made a will in favour of his three sons and had deliberately disinherited his three daughters.
During the lifetime of the testator one of these three sons died issueless leaving only his widow. The testator did not change his will and died about two years and nine months after his son’s death. Interpreting the expression lineal descendant’ in Section 109 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 the Punjab and Haryana High Court while applying the golden rule stated that if the testator had any intention of disinheriting the widow of his pre-deceased son he could easily have made another will or could have executed a codicil to the existing will. Thus, his intention was clear to the effect that the widow should succeed to the legacy of his pre-deceased son.
Advantages of the Golden Rule
- An apparent advantage of the rule is that it allows the judge to modify the meaning of words to remove absurdity and apply the modified term effectively in the case at hand.
- When the literal rule of interpretation fails to achieve clarity, the golden rule steps in to help the court.
- It guides the judges in applying appropriate principles while interpreting the meaning of the statute.
- It takes away the requirement of amending the legislation to make minute changes as the judges can do that for the Parliament. For example, in the R v. Allencase discussed above, the Court stepped in and closed the loopholes by applying the golden rule. The interpretation was in line with the original intention of the Parliament. Thus, no amendments were required.
Disadvantages of the Golden Rule
- The golden rule is restricted in its use as it can be used only when the literal rule leads to ambiguities in interpretation. Its use thus becomes limited and rare.
- It is unpredictable and lacks guidelines.
- One of the main disadvantages of the rule is that judges can twist the meaning of the words and change the law. This would cause a disbalance in the separation of powers.