The Parliament makes laws and these laws are further interpreted by Judges using the maxims of statutory interpretation.
Draftsmen try their best to ensure that the meaning of law is clear and unambiguous however there are certain words with uncertain meanings.
We all know that man is fallible and sometimes even the parliament makes an error, in such a case it is up to the Judges to correctly interpret the written letter of the law. Since the courts cannot arbitrarily interpret the ambiguous words, to determining the true intent of the draftsmen, certain principles of Interpretation are used.
Rules of Interpretation
Rules of Interpretation are principles that have evolved over the years, on account of interpretation of provisions of law by various Courts.
- These rules help in interpretation of law.
- The object behind use of these rules is to ascertain the intention of the lawmakers.
- These rules are not static and keep on evolving.
- At times, there may be more than one rule of interpretation which appear to applicable to a given situation.
- The Courts then decide the most appropriate one in the given situation considering the facts of the case.
Primary rules include :- The Literal Rule, Mischief Rule : Heydon’s Rule, Golden Rule , Harmonious Construction, Rule of beneficial construction, Rule of exceptional construction.
Secondary rules include :-Noscitur a sociis, Ejusdem Generis, Reddendo Singula Singulis.
Importance of interpretation of statutes
Interpretation of statutes is necessary for the following three reasons:
- The complexity of Statutes: As mentioned earlier, laws are enacted by individuals who are experts in their particular fields and as a result, the provisions might be complex for a layman to understand. Hence, interpretation is deemed necessary.
- Legislative Intent: Sometimes, due to the complex nature of the statute, the legislative intent might be lost and in order to understand the intent of the legislature, it is important to interpret the statutes.
- Multifaceted Nature of Language: The problem with the English language is that the same word might have different meanings in different contexts. For example, the word “PLAY” has different meanings in different contexts – “Have you watched the play XYZ?” or “Are the kids playing?” Both the words are the same, however, their meaning is different in both the sentences.
Literal Rule of Interpretation:
The first principle of interpretation is the literal or grammatical interpretation
which means that the words of an enactment are to be given their ordinary and natural meaning, and if such meaning is clear and unambiguous, effect should be given to a provision of a statute whatever may be the consequences.
This rule is based on the age-old doctrine that “judges do not legislate, they only interpret law”.
- It stipulates that the intention of the legislation must be found in the words used by the legislature Itself.
- Attention must be given to what has been said and also what has not been said.
- Nothing should be added or subtracted.
- If the provision is unambiguous and if from that provision the legislative intent is clear, the other rules of construction of statutes need not be called into aid.
Various Facets of this rule are as follows :
Natural and Grammatical Meaning
Statutes must be construed according to the natural and grammatical meaning of words. In the absence of any material, a different meaning cannot be ascribed by tracing history of the legislation to suit Court’s own view. Where the words are clear, there is no ambiguity, no obscurity and the intention of the legislature is clearly conveyed, there is no scope for the Court to innovate or take upon itself the task of amending the statutory provisions.
Plain or Ordinary Meaning
When the language is plain and unambiguous and admits of only one meaning, no question of construction of a statute arises. When the language of a statute is plain, words are clear and unambiguous and give only one meaning, then effect should be given to that plain and ordinary meaning only.
Example: B.N. Mutto v. T.K. Nandi
Popular Sense or Common Parlance Meaning
The words used in an Act must be interpreted in the light of their popular meaning or common parlance meaning as understood by the common man and the persons dealing with such things or articles in their day-to-day life.
For example, the word ‘vegetables’ used in taxing statutes is to be understood as in common parlance, i.e., denoting class of vegetables which are grown in the kitchen garden or in a farm and are used for the table.
Shri Ram vs State of Maharashtra
The petitioner were dealers in betel leaves and their business in the betel leaves was sought to be taxed by the Sales Tax department under the C.P. and Berar Sales Tax Act, 1947.
The petitioners filed writ petitions under Article 32 challenging the imposition of
Sales Tax on betel leaves by the Sales Tax Officer.
Section 6 of the Act provides that the articles mentioned in the Second Schedule were exempt from Sales Tax and articles not so specified were taxable. In the Schedule applicable, there were originally two items which are relevant in this case:
Item 6 vegetables – Except as sold in sealed containers.
Item 36 – Betel Leaves.
The schedule was amended by the C.P. and Berar Sales Tax (Amendment) Act, 1948 by which item 36 was omitted.
Contention of the Petitioners: The order demanding tax was without authority of law as betel leaves were not taxable under section 6 read with the second schedule of the Act. It was alleged that the imposition of tax is an infringement of their right to carry on trade or business under Article 19(1)(g). It was contended that in the Item 36. Betel leaves were exempt from Sales Tax as they were vegetables. Contention of the Respondent: The intention of the legislature in regard to what is vegetables is shown by its specifying vegetables and betel leaves as separate item in the schedule exempting articles from Sales Tax. Subsequently betel leaves were removed from the schedule which is indicative of the legislature’s intention of not exempting betel leaves from the imposition of the tax.
The Court observed that:
Betel leaves could not be given the dictionary, technical or botanical meaning when the ordinary and natural meaning is unambiguous. Being a word of everyday use one must understand it in the popular sense by which the people are conversant with it.
MV Joshi vs MU Shimpi 1961
Facts : The appellant was a dealer in butter and was a proprietor of a shop. The food inspector of the area visited his shop and took samples for analysis. Upon analysis of the samples, it was found that the butter was “adulterated” as defined under section 2 (1) (a) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954.
A complaint was filed against the appellant in the court of judicial Magisterial under section 16 (1) (a) of the Act.
Issue : Whether the butter seized from the appellant was butter as defined in the
Contention of the appellant: It was contented by the counsel for the appellant that butter prepared from curd was not butter within the meaning of the Rule A-11.05 of Appendix B to the rules.
Supreme Court held that butter prepared from curd comes within the definition of
Lalita Kumari v. Government of U.P. & Ors.
Issue: The important issue which arose for consideration before the Hon’ble
Constitution Bench of Hon’ ble Supreme Court was whether “a police officer is bound to register a First Information Report (FIR) upon receiving any information relating to commission of a cognizable offence under section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or the police officer has the power to conduct a “preliminary inquiry in order to test the veracity of such information before registering the same?”
The above issue was to be answered by considering the only question concerning the interpretation to be given to provisions of section 154 of the CrPC.
Observations and Holdings:
The Hon’ble Supreme Court had observed:
The first and foremost principle of interpretation of a statute in every system of
interpretation is the literal rule of interpretation.
All that we have to see at the very outset is what does the provision say? As a result, the language employed in section 154 is the determinative factor of the legislative intent.
A plain reading of section 154(1) of the Code provides that any information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence if given orally to an officer-in-charge of a police station shall be reduced into writing by him or under his direction. There is no ambiguity in the language of section 154(1) of the Code.
The language of section 154(1), therefore admits of no other construction but the literal construction.
Sub Rules under the Literal Rule of Interpretation
There are a few sub-rules that are followed in the literal rule of interpretation:
- Ejusdem Generis: It literally translates to “of the same kind”. It means to follow the general meaning of word or words of similar kind.
- Casus Omissus: It literally means cases omitted. It can also be interpreted as a point which is not provided for by the statute. Where a point is not provided for by the statute, it is governed by case laws.
- Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius: It literally means that one thing has been mentioned whereas the other has been left out.
Advantages of Literal Rule of Interpretation
- Literal rule enables layman to understand the issue in hand.
- It enables to understand the intent of legislature simply and clearly.
- This rule respects the parliamentary supremacy.
Criticisms of Literal Rule of Interpretation
- A major criticism of this rule of interpretation is that the meanings of words might change from time to time and hence the literal interpretation leads to injustice.
- Misleading precedents may be created due to this.
- Some ambiguity might still arise while interpreting due to the use of words like “or”, “and”, “all”.
Another criticism of this rule is that it restricts and bounds the court making it unable to use its judicial mind to deviate from the literal meaning of the terms.
- Sometimes, a court might ascertain an absolute absurd meaning which the legislature never intended.
From the above discussion, it is clear that the literal rule of interpretation is the primary rule of interpretation under which courts interpret statutes and provisions in the literal and ordinary sense without adding any meaning to them and without modifying them. This rule is helpful in cases where there is no ambiguity.