Mischief Rule under Interpretation of Statute with case laws

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Mischief or Hyden Rule of Interpretation


The mischief rule of statutory interpretation is the oldest of the rules. The mischief rule is a rule of statutory interpretation that attempts to determine the legislator’s intention. Its main aim is to determine the “mischief and defect” of the statute.

The mischief rule was established in Heydon’s Case in 1584. It was held that the mischief rule should only be applied where there is ambiguity in the statute. Under the mischief rule the Court’s role is to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy. The Courts while applying the principle tries to find out the real intention behind the enactment. This rule thus assists the court in identifying the proper construction of statutory wording according to the original intention of the legislators.

The mischief rule was laid down in Heydon’s Case by Lord Coke. According to him, “to arrive at the real meaning, it is always necessary to get an exact conception of the aim, scope and object of the whole Act. And for the sure and true interpretation of all statutes in general, be they penal or beneficial; restrictive or enlarging, four things are to be discerned and considered:

(i) What was the law before the Act was passed;

(ii) What was the mischief or defect for which the law had not provided;

(iii) What remedy Parliament has appointed; and

(iv) The reason of the remedy,

In this rule Judges is always to make such construction as shall suppress the mischief, and advance the remedy and to suppress subtle inventions and evasions for continuance of the mischief, and pro privato commodo; and to add force and life to the cure and remedy, according to the true intent of the makers of the Act, pro bono publico.”

If the words used in legislation are ambiguous and uncertain and are incapable of giving a certain meaning , the Mischief rule can safely be relied upon.

Case Laws


In this case around the 1960s, the prostitutes were soliciting in the streets of London and it was creating a huge problem in London.

  • This was causing a great problem in maintaining law and order.
  • To prevent this problem, Street Offences Act, 1959 was enacted.
  • After the enactment of this act, the prostitutes started soliciting from windows and balconies.
  • Since, this defeated the intention of the legislation, some prostitutes were charged under Section 1ff of the said Act.
  • But the prostitutes pleaded that they were not soliciting from “the streets”.

The court rejected their argument and applied the mischief rule of interpretation by stating that the inducement by them from the windows and balconies of their houses is also prohibited under the Act.

The court justified this by stating that the purpose of the Act was to prevent prostitution.

Hence, due to the application of the mischief rule, the court held that the windows and balconies of their homes would count for an extension of the word and would come within the ambit of the word ‘street’.


  • In this case, the factory listed as respondent comprised of 4 units for manufacturing.
  • The 4 units operated as paddy mill, flour mill, saw mill and copper sheet units.
  • The number of employees there were more than 50.
  • By the application of the provisions of the Employees.

Provident Fund Act 1952, the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner directed the factory to furnish the employees with benefits.

  • On the contrary, the respondent refused to comply on the ground that, separately, each of the 4 units comprised of less than 50 employees.
  • Arguing on the aforesaid grounds, he stated that the provisions of the Act did not apply to him.
  • Nonetheless, the court was of the opinion that the mischief rule needed to be applied in this case. Therefore, considering all the 4 units to be one industry.


The accused was charged under section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which is a punishable offence for selling or having possession for sale of the obscene book.

  • Accused argued that the shopkeeper is not expected to go through each book to see whether books contain obscene literature.
  • He had not read the book “Lady Chatterley’s Lover earlier.Therefore, his case does not come under section 292.
  • But the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the accused on the basis of Mischief Rule.

Royal College of Nursing vs Department of Health and Social Security

Old Statute: Offences against the person act 1861

Mischief: It says that abortion is an offence

Remedy is: Surpass the Mischief

New Statute: The abortion Act 1967

Remedy: If medical practitioner carries out abortion under certain circumstances it is not an offence.

Issue: Whether nurses can administer hormonal abortion (abortion within a week by use of medicine only without surgery)

Applying the mischief rule it was legal for nurses to do so. The action of the nurses was outside the mischief in old statute and within the scope of the new statute.

Vasant Bhagwat Patil vs State of Maharashtra 2012

It was held that Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code refers to word ‘woman’ and not to ‘wife and by the said section protection was contemplated to married woman and not to the legally wedded wife only. Where accused and deceased were residing together and the evidence proved that marriage of accused and deceased took place by ‘sulagna procedure, the contention of the accused that deceased was not his legally wedded wife as there was no evidence of valid marriage between them to attract the provisions of section 498A, cannot be accepted.”

A person who enters into marital arrangement cannot be allowed to take shelter behind the smoke screen of contention that since there was no valid marriage the question of dowry does not arise. The word “husband” would apply to a person who enters into marital relationship and under the colour of such proclaimed or feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty or coerces her in any manner or for any purposes enumerated in ss, 304B and 498A, whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage itself.

Limitations of Mischief Rule

  1. It cannot be approached directly as first literal rule is to be considered.
  2. It cannot be used unless there is any ambiguity and uncertainty.


  • It gives effect to parliament’s intentions
  • It allows judges to use their common sense and save parliament time
  • It allows judges to consider social and technological changes
  • It allows judges to look at external aids like Hansard as in ‘Pepper v Hart’


  • Finding the intention of Parliament can be difficult
  • It is reasonable to argue that what parliament intended can only be seen in what it actually wrote in the act
  • It gives too much power to the unelected judiciary which is argued to be undemocratic.
  • It is seen to be out of date as it has been in use since the 16th century, when common law was the primary source of law and parliamentary supremacy was not established.
  • In the 16th century, the judiciary would often draft acts on behalf of the king and were therefore well qualified in what mischief the act was meant to remedy, however, such is not the case anymore.
  • It might cause uncertainty if a judge changes the meaning of statute

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