Interpretation of statute is one important task assigned to the courts by
which they interpret the statute or law when there is question of law comes to
it which is not precisely answered in the statute, and its lead to ambiguity and
superficiality in the application of the law. Courts uses their analytical
reasoning and due diligence to find intent of the legislation by which there can
be proper interpretation of the law.
The intent of the legislature behind passing the statute helps the court in
interpreting the statute. The intent of the legislation is to be seen from very
wide perspective and many points it needed to be considered such as reason for
legislation, object and purpose of legislation, priority area of legislation,
class of people on which legislation must be applied. The intention behind the
legislature in passing the law can be the determining factor in proper
interpretation of the law.
In Pitches v. Kenny
 , it was said that:
"The object of an Act and its
intent, meaning and spirit can only be ascertained from the term of the Act
itself." In finding the intent of legislation the court must find natural
meaning of the word used in the legislation and what is overall context and
scope of the word occur in the legislation and any other phrase in the
legislation which can throw light to the fact.
Some Important Consideration In Interpretation Are:
Statute Must Be Read In Its Context As A WholeThere is well settled and established Principal of law that Statute must be read
in its whole context and not merely by reading the text of a particular section
of the Act. The intention of legislature behind enacting an Act or Statute can
be ascertained by reading the whole text of the statute and the context in which
word has been used in the Act.
Maxwell states that the expression "reading word in their context" as two
In the case of Balsinor Nagrik Co-op. Bank Ltd. V. Babubhai S Pandya
 it was
held by the Hon'ble Supreme court that:
- The external aspect: reading of statute or the Act must not be in
isolation but in its whole context such as class of people affected by the
act, historical context, parliamentary debates on the statute, parliamentary
publication such as reports of the committee's which preceded the
legislation, conventions, and international laws on the subject.
- The statutory aspect: it is established rule that interpretation must be
of all parts together, not of one part itself and other part in that context
It is an elementary rule that
construction of a statute is to be made all parts together. It is not
permissible to omit any part of it. For the principal that the statute must be
read as a whole is equally applicable to different parts of the same section.
UT Res Magis Valeat Quam PereatThe legal maxim "ut res magis valeat quam pereat" means is it is better for a
thing to have an effect than to be made void. Based on it this maxim it is
established that court should validate a statute passed by legislature rather
than making it void as there should be some purpose and object and reason for
passing the Act by legislature, so it is better to validate a statute rather
than making it null and void. If there is some ambiguity and enigma in statute
courts strive to give it meaning rather that.
Rule Of Harmonious Construction
The principal of harmonious construction is construction to maintain the harmony
or oneness among various provision of statute. The idea behind the rule of
harmonious construction is that the legislature never intends to contradict
itself by providing incompatible or conflicting provisions in the same Act or
Statute. This rule is applicable when two sections of the same statute
contradict themselves and are repugnant. The court should try to rule in such a
way that both sections harmonize with each other.
In the case of Krishna Kumar v. State of Rajasthan it was observed that if
there is clear self-contradiction into sections of the same act, the rule of
harmonious construction is applied to avoid any clash between two provisions of
the same Act. It cannot be assumed that Parliament has given with one-hand and
take it from other hand. Two provisions of the same statute cannot be
In the case of CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers the Hon'ble Supreme Court has
laid down following points to be considered for harmonious construction:
- It is duty of the court to keep away from two-seemingly contradicting
sections of the Act and try to harmonize them unless
- the court must not use one section of the Act to defeat the provision of
other section of the same Act unless there is no other way despite all
there, they are not able avoid without the same.
- If it is impossible to completely reconcile two conflicting provision of
the same statute then, if possible, it should interpret in such as to give
effect to both provision of the Statute.
- The court must keep in mind when that interpretation of the courts
reduces the one provision of the Act to the "dead letter" or "useless
provision" it is not harmonious construction.
- To harmonize is not to reduce any provision of the statutory provision.
The Principal Rules Of Interpretation
There are three principles rules of Interpretation of Statutes. These are:
The Priimary Rule: Literal ConstructionThe rule of literal construction is considered to be the primary rule of
interpretation. It is one of the rules in which grammatical meaning of the word
or phrase is used and this rule is also called the grammatical rule of
interpretation. Under this rule the court try to interpret Statute on the
literal, ordinary, popular, and common meaning of the word and phrases. This
rule postulates that it is duty of the court to expound the law as it stands and
not to modify, alter or quantify its language.
In the case of Cartledge v.
Japling (E.) & Sons  it was held by court that were by use of clear and
unequivocal language of only one meaning, anything is enacted by the
legislature, it must be enforced however harsh or absurd or contrary to common
sense the result may be.
The literal rule of statutory interpretation regards that if meaning of the word
is plain and simple court should apply it regardless of the result. In Sutters
v. Biggs Lord Birkenhead said that "It is duty of the court is to expound the
law as it is stands to leave the remedy two others.
The rule of literal interpretation based on the legal maxim "verbis legis non
est recelendum" which means from the word of law there is no departure. Because
the purpose of the statute is stated in the statute, the court's primary duty is
to not change the language of the Act if it is clear and unambiguous, and the
effect of the statute should be given. The reason for such a maxim is that the
Parliament, as the supreme law-making body, should know what it intends in the
The meaning of a statute can also be affected by the context, as in the legal
maxim noscitur a sociis, which means the meaning of an unclear and ambiguous
word should be determined by the context with which it is associated. Courts
sometimes interpret a word or phrase in the context in which it is used in the
The rule of literal construction can be understood in the following terms:
Plain and natural meaning:
In the literal interpretation of statute plain and natural meaning of word or
phrases to be referred in the case of legal word or phrase their legal meaning
to be referred. Sometimes the popular meaning of the word may not be the natural
meaning of the word or phrase, but the natural meaning must be referred to.
In the case of Municipal Board v. State Transport Authority, Rajasthan the
location of bus stand by changed by the local transport authority. Application
against the order must be moved within 30 days from the date of the order. The
issue raised be applicant is that the order can be moved 30 days from the
knowledge of the order passed by Regional Transport authority. The Hon'ble
Supreme Court held that the since the language of the statute is plain and
unambiguous equitable consideration are out of place and clear grammatical
meaning of the statute stand out.
Meaning to be ascertained by the reference to context
The literal rule requires that words be understood first in their plain,
natural, ordinary meaning with reference to the context in which they are used.
Meaning is to be arrived at by reading words in their context.
Construction of ordinary words in their popular sense
The word or phrases used in the legislation should be used in their popular
sense. "Popular sense" means that sense which people who are familiar with and
have knowledge or experience of the facts or rule with which the statute is
dealing would attribute to it. In the case of Mukesh Aggarwal & Co. v. State of
M. P Hon'ble Supreme Court observed that "the common commercial sense of the
words and not their scientific or technical sense is to be adopted for our
merchants and not supposed to be naturalists, botanist, or geologist.
Technical words in their technical sense
When words or phrases have their technical or legal meaning attached to them,
they should be interpreted according to the primary meaning that is technical or
legal meaning attached to it.
Some words acquire a special or technical meaning that becomes popular in the
context of the concerned business, trade, or profession, art, or science, and
that meaning becomes normal or popular in that context over time. It is that
popular meaning that constitutes the definitive index of the legislation. But
there are some limitations in the rules that must be kept in mind.
In the case of Union of India v. Delhi Cloth and General Mills it was held by
the Hon'ble Supreme Court that evidence to show that special meaning has been
acquired by the word in business or industry is admissible in courts.
- That the special meaning acquired by the word or phrase must be understood
as a whole and not as a portion of only the concerned profession or
- The special meaning acquired by the word must be in vogue at the time of
drafting the statute.
This rule is seen as primary rule of interpretation. It has been used not only
by courts in England, where it originated, but also by courts around the world.
The rule of literal interpretation is considered one of the oldest rules.
Legislation should be drafted in such a way that the original and natural
meaning of the words and phrases to be referred to is preserved. Courts must
only change the word's or phrase's meaning when the original word creates
ambiguity and uncertainty; otherwise, they must stick to their literal meaning.
Golden RuleParke B had in Becke v. Smith formulated the rule as follow "It is very useful
rule, in the construction of a statute, to adhere to the ordinary meaning of
the word used, and to the grammatical construction, unless that is at
variance with the intention of the legislature to be collected from the
statute itself, or leads to any manifest absurdity or repugnance, in which
the language may be varied or modified, so as to avoid such inconvenience
but no further."
The Golden Rule of Interpretation is a modified version of the Literal Rule of
Interpretation. When the words or phrases of the statute do not fit with their
natural meaning and create absurdity, uncertainty, or are superficial, the
golden rule of interpretation is adhered to.
In the words of Maxwell, "The so-called golden rule of interpretation is nothing
but a modification of the literal rule of interpretation." This rule is also
considered the modifying method of interpretation.
Sometimes a statute isn't clear and has anomalies and absurdities; at that time,
the golden rule must be applied with due caution and care to avoid any
uncertainty and inconvenience or to complete justice and arrive at the correct
interpretation, which would bring about the true meaning of the language and
give effect to the real intention of the legislature behind passing the statute.
Mischief RuleMischief means "Voluntarily cause injury or loss to someone"
Mischief rule is a rule of interpretation to prevent misuse of provisions of the
statute. Mischief rule is framed to avoid any mischief added by the statute.
This rule is so interpreted that any mischief in statute must be avoided and
object and purpose of passing the act by the legislature is attained.
In Kanailal Sur v. Paramnidhi Sadhu Khan it was observed by Hon'ble Supreme
Court that "this rule is most helpful in the interpretation of statutes when the
language of the statute is capable of more than one meaning"
Lord Coke in Heydon case decided four criteria on which the mischief rule is
The rule of mischief is also considered to be purposive interpretation of
statute as consideration of mischief may lead to wider or narrow interpretation
- What was the common law prevailing before passing of the Act?
- What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not
- What remedy the Parliament was provided to remove the defect
- What is actual reason for the remedy?
In the case of Pyarelal v. Ramchandra Mahadev accused was charged with using
artificial sweetener in the supari for sweetening. Accused argued that supari
does not come under the category of food under Food Adulteration Act, 1954.
Hon'ble Supreme Court set aside the argument of Accused and held that supari
comes in the category of food in the Act. Supreme court interpreted the Act in
such a way to prevent mischief and advance the remedy.
Parliament is the supreme law-making body and is assigned the very important
task of drafting and implementing the law in the country. It is their duty to
ensure that the statute is drafted in such a way that there are no chances of
ambiguity and laxity. But when there is some ambiguity in the statute courts
must interpret the statute in such a way as to be consistent with the intention
and purpose of the legislature in passing the Act.
Courts must not cross their
limits in the name of judicial review to give very wide or narrow
interpretations of the statute. It must secure the supremacy of Parliament in
making laws, and courts must only act as supervisors of various laws passed by
the Legislature. When the Statute has any absurdity and creates injustice, then
only courts should give wide interpretation to only fulfill the purpose of
passing the Statute by legislature.
- Maxwell's Interpretation of Statute
- Deepak Jain, Interpretation of Statutes: A treatise
- Interpretation of Statute by Justice A.K. Srivastava
- All About Interpretation of Statutes By: Nishita Kapoor
- Literally Interpretation the Law- A Appraisal of the Literal rule of
Interpretation of Statutes
- Interpretation of Statutes: A Complete study to an aids to interpretation
- [1903 22 N.Z.L.R. 818, 819]
- AIR (1987) SC 849
- 1991 4 SCC 258, 267
- AIR 2002 SC 3491
- [1963 AC 758 : 1963 1 ER 341]
- (1922) 1 A.C. 1
- AIR 1965 SC 458
- AIR 1988 SC 563
- AIR (1963) SC 791
- AIR 1957 SC 905
- AIR 1974 SC 223