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Interpretation is the process which is employed by the judiciary to ascertain or to determine the meaning of the statutes or legal provision. It is basically a process by which court seeks to ascertain the true meaning of the expression or word or phrase which is in question in any statute before the court and determine the true intention of the legislature behind such statutory provision.
A process of interpretation employed by the judiciary can be done through various tools or principles of statutory interpretation which include seeking help from internal or external aids to interpretation and applying primary or secondary rule of interpretation which has evolved over a period of time by the court.
According to Salmond
Interpretation and construction is the process by which the court seek to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed.
According to Blackstone:
The most fair and rational method for interpreting a statute is by exploring the intention of the legislature through texts, the subject matter, the effect and consequences or the spirit and reason of law.
Object of interpretation
When the language of the statute is clear, there is no need for the rules of interpretation. But, in certain cases, more than one meaning may be derived from the same word or sentence. It is, therefore, necessary to interpret the statute to find out the real intention of the statute.
Construction of statutes
Construction, in strict sense, is the process by which the court assign the meaning to the ambiguous provision which is beyond the letter of law for the purpose to resolve the inconsistency. The judges after taking into consideration the factual circumstances before the court give a particular meaning to the expression or word or phrase in question. Although, such meaning must be within the ambit of the objective of statute and could not be directly explained by the statute.
The word interpretation and construction are used interchangeably but there is thin line of difference between both the concepts.
Aids to interpretation of statutes
An Aid is considered as a tool or device which helps in interpreting a statute, the court can take help from internal aids to interpretation (i.e. within statutes) or external aids to interpretation (i.e. outside the statutes)
A. Internal aids to interpretation
Internal aids means those aids which are available in the statute itself, court can interpret the statute by employing such aids which are as follows:
Title of the statute
There are basically two types of title-
I. Short Title
The short title of the Act is only its name which is given solely for the purpose of reference and identification.
Short title is mention under Section 1 of the Acts and ends with the year of passing of the Act.
Example- Section 1 of CPC says, This Act may be cited as Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.' Section 1 of Indian contract Acts says, This Act may be called as Indian Contract Act, 1872.
II. Long Title
The long title is mention under certain acts whose purpose is to give a general description about the object of the act.
However, it is not considered as a conclusive aid to interpretation of statutes as it doesn't resolve ambiguity arising in words or expression under statutory provision but only provide a general idea of the act.
Example- The long title of CrPC says, An act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the criminal procedure. Also, the long title of CPC says, ?An act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the procedure of the courts of civil judicature.
Preamble is a tool for internal aid to interpretation as it contains the main objects and reasons of the Act.
The rule of interpretation of preamble is that when a language of an enactment is clear and unambiguous, the preamble has no part to play but if more than one interpretation is possible, a help can be taken from preamble to ascertain the true meaning of the provision.
The preamble is mention on the very first page of the act but modern acts doesn't pass with preamble which is declining its importance.
Marginal notes are inserted at the side of the sections in an act which express the effect of the section but they are not part of statute.
They are also known as Side notes and are inserted by drafters and not legislators.The rule of interpretation is that in olden times a help is used to be taken from marginal notes when the clear meaning of the provision is in doubt but as per modern view of the court, marginal notes doesn't have any role to play because either they are inserted by legislators nor does they form the part of the statute.
However, for interpreting constitution many times marginal notes are referred because they are made by constituent assembly.
Headings are prefixed to sections or a group or set of sections.
These headings have been treated by courts as preambles to those sections or sets of sections.
The rule of interpretation is that the heading can't control the plain words of the provision but if after the plain reading of the section more than one meaning is possible, only then the court may seek guidance from the headings.
Illustration are appended to a section of a statute with a view to illustrating the law explained in the provision.
Such illustration manifest the intention of the legislature and can be referred in the case of ambiguity or repugnancy.
However, the court emphasis through various judgments that it doesn't explain the whole principle explain in the section through illustration nor does it curtail the ambit of the section.
In the case of repugnancy between section and illustration, section will prevail.
Example- Section 378 of theft in IPC has 16 illustrations attached to it.
The explanations are inserted with the purpose of explaining the meaning of a particular provision and to remove doubts which might creep up if the explanation had not been inserted.
The purpose of explanations are to explain the meaning and intention of act, to clarify in case of obscurity or vagueness and to provide additional support to the object of the act.
However, it doesn't expand or curtail the meaning of the provision but only tries to remove uncertainty and in the case of conflict between explanation and main section, the duty of the court is to harmonize the two.
Example- section 108 of IPC defines the word abettor' which has five explanation attach to it.
Definition or Interpretation clause
It define certain words used elsewhere in the body of statute with the purpose to avoid the necessity of frequent repetitions in describing the subject matter and extend the natural meaning of some words as per the statute. It also define intention of the legislature in respect of words mention in statute and avoid confusion.
The rule of interpretation is that whenever the words means or means and include' are used in definition, it makes the definition exhaustive and don't allow to interpret the definition widely but if the word includes' is used in the definition it provide widest interpretation possible to the definition or enlarge the ordinary meaning of the word.
However, if the definition clause will result in an absurdity, the court will not apply such definitions and the definition clause of one act can't be used to explain same word used in another statute except in the case of statutes in pari materia.
Punctuation are put in the form of colon, semi colon, comma, full stop, dash, hyphen, brackets etc
In earlier times statutes are passed without punctuations and therefore, the courts were not concerned with looking at punctuations but in modern times statutes are passed with punctuations.
The rule of interpretation is that while interpreting the provision in punctuated form, if court feels repugnancy or ambiguity the court shall read the whole provision without any punctuation and if the meaning is clear will so interpret it without attaching any importance.
Schedule are the part of statutes which are mentioned at the end of the act.
It contains details prescribe form of working out policies and contains subjects in the form of lists.
In the case of clash between schedule and the main body of an act, the main body shall prevail.
Example- Article 1 of the constitution provides that India shall be union of states and in schedule 1 name of the states with its territories are mention.
Saving Clause are generally appended in cases of repeal and reenactment of a new statute. It is inserted in the repealing statute.
By this the rights already created under repealed enactment are not disturbed nor are new rights created by it.
In the case of clash between the main part of statute and a saving clause, the saving clause has to be rejected.
The proviso to a section has the natural presumption that enacting part of the section would have included the subject matter of the proviso.
The proviso serve four different purposes- qualify or exempt certain provision, provide mandatory condition to be fulfilled by to make enactment workable, act as optional addenda and become integral part of the enactment. The rule of interpretation of proviso is that it can neither nullify the implication of main enactment nor can enlarge the scope of main enactment and can only be referred in case of ambiguity in the section. In case of conflict between main enactment and proviso, it must be harmoniously construct or in the view of many jurist proviso will prevail as it is the last intention of the legislature.
Example- Article 16(4) is considered as proviso of Article 16(1) held in T. Devadasan v. Union of India .
Exception are generally added to an enactment with the purpose of exempting something which would otherwise fall within the ambit of the main provision.
In case of repugnancy between exception and main enactment, the latter must be relied upon. However, in many cases exceptions are relied being the last intention of legislature.
Example: Section 300 of IPC has five exceptions attached to it.
Difference between proviso and exceptions
Proviso has a wider function than exception as, an exception only exempt certain things to fall in the main enactment whereas, proviso not only exempt certain cases but also provide a mandatory condition, qualification or an optional addenda to the enactment.
Proviso follows the main enactment whereas exception is the part of main enactment.
Rules of Interpretation
1. Primary Rules –
Literal or Grammatical Rule
Literal meaning is subject to the following conditions-
According to this rule, the words used in this text are to be given or interpreted in their natural or ordinary meaning. After the interpretation, if the meaning is completely clear and unambiguous then the effect shall be given to a provision of a statute regardless of what may be the consequences.
The Mischief Rule/Purposive construction
A rule of statutory interpretation that attempts to determine the legislator’s intention – to determine the mischief and defect – to give ruling to implement the effective remedy. Mischief Rule was originated in Heydon’s case in 1584. It is the rule of purposive construction because the purpose of this statute is most important while applying this rule. It is known as Heydon’s rule because it was given by Lord Poke in Heydon’s case in 1584. It is called as mischief rule because the focus is on curing the mischief.
The Golden Rule
It is a form of statutory interpretation that allows a judge to depart from a word’s normal meaning in order to avoid an absurd result. It is a compromise between the rule of interpretation and the rule of mischief. To be used in two ways-
It is known as the golden rule because it solves all the problems of interpretation. 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 of 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.
When there is a conflict between two or more statutes or two or more parts of a statute then this rule is to be adopted. If it is not possible to harmonize the two statutes, then the court is to decide the same and it shall prevail. There should be consistency.
According to this rule of interpretation, when two or more provisions of the same statute are repugnant to each other, then in such a situation the court, if possible, will try to construe the provisions in such a manner as to give effect to both the provisions by maintaining harmony between the two. The question that the two provisions of the same statute are overlapping or mutually exclusive may be difficult to determine.
The legislature clarifies its intention through the words used in the provision of the statute. So, here the basic principle of harmonious construction is that the legislature could not have tried to contradict itself. In the cases of interpretation of the Constitution, the rule of harmonious construction is applied many times.
Rule of reasonable construction
Rule of beneficial construction
Beneficial construction is a tendency and not a rule.
This principle is based on human tendency to be fair, accommodating and just.
Rule of exceptional construction
It stands for the elimination of statutes and words in a statute which defeats the real objective of the statute or makes no sense. ‘and’ ‘or’, ‘may’, ‘shall’, ‘must’.
2. Secondary Rules –
1. Noscitur a sociis –
It can be used wherever a statutory provision contains a word or phrase that is capable of bearing more than one meaning. Noscere means to know and sociis means association.Thus, Noscitur a Sociis means knowing from association.
a doctrine or rule of construction: the meaning of an unclear or ambiguous word (as in a statute or contract) should be determined by considering the words with which it is associated in the context.
The meaning of an unclear word or phrase should be determined by the words immediately surrounding it. In other words, the meaning of a word is to be judged by the company it keeps.he questionable meaning of a doubtful word can be derived from its association with other words.
2. Ejusdem Generis
When a list of two or more specific descriptors are followed by more general descriptors, the otherwise wide meaning of the general descriptors must be restricted to the same class, if any, of the specific words that precede them e.g. vehicles in “cars, motorbikes, motor powered vehicles” would be interpreted in a limited sense and therefore cannot be interpreted as including air planes.
The ejusdem generis, or ‘of the same genus’ rule, is similar though narrower than the more general rule of noscitur a sociis.
According to this rule, when particular words pertaining to a class or a genus are followed by general words, the general words are construed as limited to the things of the same kind as those specified by the class or the genus. The meaning of an expression with wider meaning is limited to the meaning of the preceeding specific expressions.
3. Reddendo Singula Singulis
When a list of words has a modifying phrase at the end, the phrase refers only to the last word, e.g., firemen, policemen, and doctors in a hospital. Here, “in a hospital” only applies to doctors and not to firemen or policemen. The reddendo singula singulis principle concerns the use of words distributively. Where a complex sentence has more than one subject, and more than one object, it may be the right construction to render each to each, by reading the provision distributively and applying each object to its appropriate subject. A similar principle applies to verbs and their subjects, and to other parts of speech. A typical application of this principle is where a testator says ‘I devise and bequeath all my real and personal property to B’. The term devise is appropriate only to real property. The term bequeath is appropriate only to personal property. Accordingly, by the application of the principle reddendo singular singulis, the testamentary disposition is read as if it were worded ‘I devise all my real property, and bequeath all my personal property, to B’.
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