One of the most substantial and the principal duty which are vested on the
judiciary is the interpretation of the statutes or law which are in force. When
the courts deliver justice in a legal dispute, they strictly abide with the
boundaries framed by the legal frameworks which encompasses certain laws,
statutes, The Constitution and delegated legislations. The legal framework of a
democratic country like India includes a plethora of legislations and
The Legislature with the compliance of the procedural Parliamentary rules,
formulates and drafts certain written statutes and legislations. The courts
deliver justice in a legal matter by interpreting the underlying principles in
these legislations. The written laws are substantiated by the courts and justice
is administered by the courts through the pronouncement of verdict over the
For the purpose of interpreting statues and to prevent any wrongful
interpretation of the laws, the court should follow certain rules to shape these
laws. So, one of the most basic rules of interpretation is the Literal rule of
Interpretation of statutes where the court interprets the wordings of the law as
However, there may be certain loopholes which may be found in the law due to
which it is not interpret a straight-forward understanding of the language of
the statutes. It may lead to ambiguity and absurdity if the courts interpret the
natural meaning of the language used in the statute.
The term has been derived from the Latin term 'interpretari', which means to
explain, expound, understand, or to translate. Interpretation is the process of
explaining, expounding and translating any text or anything in written form.
This basically involves an act of discovering the true meaning of the language
which has been used in the statute. Various sources used are only limited to
explore the written text and clarify what exactly has been indicated by the
words used in the written text or the statutes.
Interpretation of statutes is the correct understanding of the law. This process
is commonly adopted by the courts for determining the exact intention of the
legislature. Because the objective of the court is not only merely to read the
law but is also to apply it in a meaningful manner to suit from case to case. It
is also used for ascertaining the actual connotation of any Act or document with
the actual intention of the legislature.
There can be mischief in the statute which is required to be cured, and this can
be done by applying various norms and theories of interpretation which might go
against the literal meaning at times. The purpose behind interpretation is to
clarify the meaning of the words used in the statutes which might not be that
According to Salmond, "Interpretation" is the process by which the court seeks
to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative
forms in which it is expressed.
In simple words, construction is the process of drawing conclusions of the
subjects which are beyond the direct expression of the text. The courts draw
findings after analysing the meaning of the words used in the text or the
statutes. This process is known as legal exposition. There are a certain set of
facts pending before the court and construction is the application of the
conclusion of these facts.
The objective is to assist the judicial body in determining the real intention
of the legislature. Its aim is also to ascertain the legal effect of the legal
Classification of Statutes:Codified statutory law can be categorized as follows:
- Codifying statutes
The purpose of this kind of statute is to give an authoritative statement of
the rules of the law on a particular subject, which is customary laws. For
example- The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and The Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
- Consolidating statutes
This kind of statute covers and combines all law on a particular subject at
one place which was scattered and lying at different places. Here, the
entire law is constituted in one place. For example- Indian Penal Code or
Code of Criminal Procedure.
- Declaratory statutes
This kind of statute does an act of removing doubts, clarifying and
improving the law based on the interpretation given by the court, which
might not be suitable from the point of view of the parliament. For example-
the definition of house property has been amended under the Income Tax
(Amendment) Act, 1985 through the judgement of the supreme court.
- Remedial statutes
Granting of new remedies for enforcing one's rights can be done through the
remedial statutes. The purpose of these kinds of statutes is to promote the
general welfare for bringing social reforms through the system. These
statutes have liberal interpretation and thus, are not interpreted through
strict means. For example- The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, The Workmen's
Compensation Act, 1923 etc.
- Enabling statutes
The purpose of this statute is to enlarge a particular common law. For
example- Land Acquisition Act enables the government to acquire the public
property for the purpose of the public, which is otherwise not permissible.
- Disabling statutes
It is the opposite of what is provided under the enabling statute. Here the
rights conferred by common law are being cut down and are being restrained.
- Penal statutes
The offences for various types of offences are provided through these
statutes, and these provisions have to be imposed strictly. For example-
Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Taxing statutes
Tax is a form of revenue that is to be paid to the government. It can either
be on income that an individual earns or on any other transaction. A taxing
statute thus, levies taxes on all such transactions. There can be income
tax, wealth tax, sales tax, gift tax, etc. Therefore, a tax can be levied
only when it has been specifically expressed and provided by any statute.
- Explanatory statutes
The term explanatory itself indicates that this type of statute explains the
law and rectifies any omission left earlier in the enactment of the
statutes. Further, ambiguities in the text are also clarified and checked
upon the previous statutes.
- Amending statutes
The statutes which operate to make changes in the provisions of the
enactment to change the original law for making an improvement therein and
for carrying out the provisions effectively for which the original law was
passed are referred to as amending statutes. For example- Code of Criminal
Procedure 1973 amended the code of 1898.
- Repealing statutes
A repealing statute is one that terminates an earlier statute and may be
done in the express or explicit language of the statute. For example-
Competition Act, 2002 repealed the MRTP Act.
- Curative or repealing statutes
Through these statutes, certain acts which would otherwise be illegal are
validated by curing the illegality and enabling a particular line of action
Rules of Interpretation
- Literal or Grammatical Rule
It is the first rule of interpretation. 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 basic rule is that whatever the intention legislature had while making
any provision it has been expressed through words and thus, is to be
interpreted according to the rules of grammar. It is the safest rule of
interpretation of statutes because the intention of the legislature is
deduced from the words and the language used.
According to this rule, the only duty of the court is to give effect if the
language of the statute is plain and has no business to look into the
consequences which might arise. The only obligation of the court is to
expound the law as it is and if any harsh consequences arise then the remedy
for it shall be sought and looked out by the legislature.
Maqbool Hussain v. State of Bombay: In this case, the appellant, a citizen of India after arriving at the
airport did not declare that he was carrying gold with him. During his
search was carried on, gold was found in his possession as it was against
the notification of the government and was confiscated under section 167(8)
of Sea Customs Act.
Later on, he was also charged under section 8 of the Foreign Exchange
Regulations Act, 1947. The appellant challenged this trial to be violative
under Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution. According to this article,
no person shall be punished or prosecuted more than once for the same
offence. This is considered double jeopardy.
It was held by the court that the Seas Act was neither a court nor any
judicial tribunal. Thus, accordingly, he was not prosecuted earlier. Hence,
his trial was held to be valid.
Manmohan Das versus Bishan Das, AIR 1967 SC 643 The issue in the case was regarding the interpretation of section 3(1)(c) of
U.P Control of Rent and Eviction Act, 1947. In this case, a tenant was
liable for evidence if he has made addition and alterations in the building
without proper authority and unauthorized perception as materially altering
the accommodation or likely to diminish its value. The appellant stated that
only the constitution can be covered, which diminishes the value of the
property, and the word 'or' should be read as land.
It was held that as per the rule of literal interpretation, the word 'or'
should be given the meaning that a prudent man understands the grounds of
the event are alternative and not combined.
State of Kerala v. Mathai Verghese and others, 1987 AIR 33 SCR(1) 317 In this case a person was caught along with the counterfeit currency
"dollars" and he was charged under section 120B, 498A, 498C and 420 read
with section 511 and 34 of Indian Penal Code for possessing counterfeit
currency. The accused contended before the court that a charge under section
498A and 498B of Indian Penal Code can only be levied in the case of
counterfeiting of Indian currency notes and not in the case of
counterfeiting of foreign currency notes. The court held that the word
currency notes or banknote cannot be prefixed. The person was held liable to
The Mischief Rule
Mischief Rule 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.
In Heydon's case, it was held that there are four things that have to be
followed for true and sure interpretation of all the statutes in general, which
are as follows:
- What was the common law before the making of an act?
- What was the mischief for which the present statute was enacted?
- What remedy did the Parliament seek or had resolved and appointed to
cure the disease of the commonwealth?
- The true reason for the remedy.
- The purpose of this rule is to suppress the mischief and advance the
Smith v. Huges, 1960 WLR 830
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, prostitutes started
soliciting from windows and balconies.
Further, the prostitutes who were carrying on to solicit from the streets and
balconies were charged under section 1(1) of the said Act. But the prostitutes
pleaded that they were not solicited from the streets.
The court held that although they were not soliciting from the streets yet the
mischief rule must be applied to prevent the soliciting by prostitutes and shall
look into this issue. Thus, by applying this rule, the court held that the
windows and balconies were taken to be an extension of the word street, and the
charge sheet was held to be correct.
Pyare Lal v. Ram Chandra:
The accused in this case, was prosecuted for selling the sweetened supari which
was sweetened with the help of an artificial sweetener. He was prosecuted under
the Food Adulteration Act. It was contended by Pyare Lal that supari is not a
food item. The court held that the dictionary meaning is not always the correct
meaning, thereby, the mischief rule must be applicable, and the interpretation
which advances the remedy shall be taken into consideration. Therefore, the
court held that the word 'food' is consumable by mouth and orally. Thus, his
prosecution was held to be valid.
Kanwar Singh v. Delhi Administration, AIR 1965 SC 871
Issues of the case were as follows:
Section 418 of Delhi Corporation Act, 1902 authorised the corporation to round
up the cattle grazing on the government land. The MCD rounded up the cattle
belonging to Kanwar Singh. The words used in the statute authorised the
corporation to round up the abandoned cattle.
It was contended by Kanwar Singh that the word abandoned means the loss of
ownership and those cattle which were round up belonged to him and hence, was
not abandoned. The court held that the mischief rule had to be applied and the
word abandoned must be interpreted to mean let loose or left unattended and even
the temporary loss of ownership would be covered as abandoned.
Regional Provident Fund Commissioner v. Sri Krishna Manufacturing Company, AIR
1962 SC 1526, Issue, in this Case, was that the respondent concerned was running
a factory where four units were for manufacturing. Out of these four units one
was for paddy mill, other three consisted of flour mill, saw mill and copper
sheet units. The number of employees there were more than 50. The RPFC applied
the provisions of Employees Provident Fund Act, 1952 thereby directing the
factory to give benefits to the employees.
The person concerned segregated the entire factory into four separate units
wherein the number of employees had fallen below 50, and he argued that the
provisions were not applicable to him because the number is more than 50 in each
unit. It was held by the court that the mischief rule has to be applied and all
four units must be taken to be one industry, and therefore, the applicability of
PFA was upheld.
The Golden Rule
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, or 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
This rule suggests that the consequences and effects of interpretation deserve a
lot more importance because they are the clues of the true meaning of the words
used by the legislature and its intention. At times, while applying this rule,
the interpretation done may entirely be the opposite of the literal rule, but it
shall be justified because of the golden rule. The presumption here is that the
legislature does not intend certain objects. Thus, any such interpretation which
leads to unintended objects shall be rejected.
Applicability and usage of the golden rule of interpretation
If there is a choice between two interpretations, then the interpretation which
reduces the futility or which is narrower in nature fails to incorporate the
purpose of the legislation due to which such a construction must be avoided as
discussed in the case of Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries Ltd by
Viscount Simon L.C. Instead, we should admit the bolder form of the construction
which is the intention of the Parliament to enact the legislation only for the
purpose of making the result effective.
The transfer of an undertaking which includes, property, duties, liabilities and
rights from the old company to a new company is dealt with under Section 154 of
the Companies Act, 1929. In the case of Luke v. R.R.C. an issue was raised with
regard to the transfer of a contract of service existing between the former
company and the individual. The House of Lords adjudged that the notice of
amalgamation should be provided to the individual.
The golden rule of interpretation has been used in this case where if the prima
facie meaning of the words would be taken into consideration, then no consent
would be required of the employee during amalgamation, but this would lead to
injustice. But in the present case, the court deviated from the wording of the
law and decided that it is the duty of the transferor company to inform the
workers about the amalgamation.
A restricted Construction was adopted by the legislature while drafting the
Central Services (Classification, Appeal, And Control) Rules, 1956 specifically
Rule 11(VI) due to which it was interpreted by the court by using the Golden
Rule in the case of Nyadar Singh v. Union of India.
imposes a penalty if there is any reduction in the grade post or service or the
pay scale of the employee.
It was adjudged by the Supreme Court that if any person is appointed to a bigger
post or pay grade, then he cannot be abridged to a lower pay grade or post due
to which this provision acquired a wider construction as interpreted by the
Court. As per Maxwell, the applicability of the Golden Rule is significant in
the area which is dedicated to the construction of legislation to adjudge
consequences and also the construction of certain provisions which *eliminate
injustice and inconvenience or also evasion.
To explain the applicability of the Golden rule, the case of Free Lanka
Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Panasinghe
can be referred to where it was held that
if a prisoner escapes from prison due to a fire accident, then he did not commit
a felony under the Statute as this act committed by him was not with the
intention of getting freedom but it is to save his life. Similarly, if there is
any act that is done on certain justifiable grounds then that act would not
qualify as criminal in nature.
The Supreme Court and High Court in India have applied the Golden Construction
of Statutes in various judgements as previously discussed. But there is a
certain confusion which is observed between the Golden rule and the Literal Rule
as even though initially the literal meaning of the statute is taken into
consideration if it is plain and logical but if there is any trace of absurdity
or uncertainty then the interpretation of the court would pay a significant
But if there is a possibility that there is more than one meaning of the wording
in the statute, then any addition, substitution or rejection should be done by
the court modifying the language so that the intention of the legislature is
expounded. Some of the landmark Indian cases in which the Golden Rule was used
was with respect to the interpretation of the provisions like "Section 23 of the
Representation of People's Act, 1951" and Section 3A of the U.P. Sales Tax Act,
1948 which were dealt with in Narendra Kiadivalapa v. Manikrao Patil and
Annapurna Biscuit Manufacturing Co. v. Commissioner of Sales Tax, U P
respectively. Therefore, the applicability of the Golden Rule of Interpretation
in the Indian cases and the foreign cases have a narrow and wide approach that
needs to be observed by the courts in their work.
Tirath Singh v. Bachittar Singh, AIR 1955 SC 850
In this case, there was an issue with regard to issuing of the notice under
section 99 of Representation of People's Act, 1951, with regard to corrupt
practices involved in the election.
According to the rule, the notice shall be issued to all those persons who are a
party to the election petition and at the same time to those who are not a party
to it. Tirath Singh contended that no such notice was issued to him under the
said provision. The notices were only issued to those who were non-parties to
the election petition. This was challenged to be invalid on this particular
The court held that what is contemplated is giving of the information and the
information even if it is given twice remains the same. The party to the
petition is already having the notice regarding the petition, therefore, section
99 shall be so interpreted by applying the golden rule that notice is required
against non-parties only.
State of Madhya Pradesh v. Azad Bharat Financial Company, AIR 1967 SC 276,
Issues of the case are as follows
A transporting company was carrying a parcel of apples was challenged and
charge-sheeted. The truck of the transporting company was impounded as the
parcel contained opium along with the apples. At the same time, the invoice
shown for the transport consisted of apples only.
Section 11 of the opium act 1878, all the vehicles which transport the
contraband articles shall be impounded and articles shall be confiscated. It was
confiscated by the transport company they were unaware of the fact that opium
was loaded along with the apples in the truck.
The court held that although the words contained in section 11 of the said act
provided that the vehicle shall be confiscated but by applying the literal rule
of interpretation for this provision it is leading to injustice and inequity and
therefore, this interpretation shall be avoided. The words 'shall be
confiscated' should be interpreted as 'may be confiscated.
State of Punjab v. Quiser Jehan Begum, AIR 1963 SC 1604:
A period of limitation was prescribed for, under section 18 of land acquisition
act, 1844, that an appeal shall be filed for the announcement of the award
within 6 months of the announcement of the compensation. Award was passed in the
name of Quiser Jehan. It was intimated to her after the period of six months
about this by her counsel. The appeal was filed beyond the period of six months.
The appeal was rejected by the lower courts.
It was held by the court that the period of six months shall be counted from the
time when Quiser Jehan had the knowledge because the interpretation was leading
to absurdity. The court by applying the golden rule allowed the appeal.
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.
It can be assumed that if the legislature has intended to give something to one,
it would not intend to take it away with the other hand as both the provisions
have been framed by the legislature and absorbed the equal force of law. One
provision of the same act cannot make the other provision useless. Thus, under
no circumstances, the legislature can be expected to contradict itself.