One of the ways to interpret laws or statutes is through the mischief rule,
also called the Heydon's Rule or Rule in Heydon's Case, which is utilized in
various common law regions such as the UK and India. The rule aims to uncover
the reason and objective behind a statue's creation. Its purpose is to aid
judges in determining the "mischief" or issue that the legislation was meant to
solve and understand the statute in a manner that meets the legislative intent.
The main intention of the rule is to find out the mischief and defect that the
statute in question has set out to remedy, and what ruling would implement this
Consideration is to be given to four things for the proper interpretation of all
statutes, whether they be beneficial, penal, restrictive, or enlarging of common
law, as stipulated in Heyden's case
- What was the common law before the Act was made?
- What were the mischief and defect for which there was no remedy?
- What remedy the legislature proposed to cure the disease?
- The true reason behind the remedy.
Process of Applying the Mischief RuleTo clarify, the process for applying the mischief rule is as follows:
Identify the Statute:
To begin with, you need to identify which statute
or law is needing interpretation.
Examine the Mischief:
"The problem of mischief" should be examined under
the mischief rule, which entails examining the legal dilemma that the statute
sought to address. To accomplish this, the lawmakers' intention for the law must
be evaluated. Prior to the statute's adoption, what was the legal predicament or
problem that needed resolution?
Identify the Remedy:
Identifying the remedy is crucial. It involves
uncovering the intended solution provided by the legislature for the issue at
In a bid to forward the remedy proposed by the
legislature, the rule instructs the interpreter to decipher the statute,
implying that the judge must scrutinize the statute while keeping the issue it
aims to solve in mind.
Avoid Going Beyond the Mischief: Judges who turn to the mischief rule should
exercise caution in their interpretation so as to refrain from exceeding the
bounds of necessity when addressing the problem at hand. Rather than
encompassing wider or unforeseen implications, it strictly targets the narrow
concern which the legislature was addressing.
Arriving at a more purposive and equitable interpretation is the aim of the
mischief rule. This is achieved by focusing on the reason behind the statute's
enactment, especially when the language is ambiguous or clarification is needed.
To do so, judges rely on the historical context and the problem the legislature
aimed to solve. This approach can prove particularly useful in ensuring that the
intention of the legislature is upheld.
Judicial interpreters use a variety of methods, including the mischief rule, to
interpret statutes. However, the golden rule, literal rule, and purposive
approach may be employed depending on the situation and the law's legislative
An illustration of the mischief rule can be observed in the case of Smith v.
Hughes (1960), which is a well-known instance in the realm of English law. The
inquiry at hand was whether a street prostitute, the defendant, could be
convicted of soliciting with the intention of prostitution. As per the Street
Offences Act, 1959, it was against the law for a regular prostitute to linger or
entice in a public place or street for the objective of prostitution.
In this case:
Identify the Statute:
The Street Offences Act of 1959 was the statute
that should be identified.
Examine the Mischief:
The solicitation of prostitutes on the streets was
the "mischief" that the statute aimed to address. It was deemed a public
nuisance and moral concern. The legislature's goal was to regulate and control
Identify the Remedy: In public places, prostitutes are not allowed to solicit as
per the legislature's intended remedy.
Applying the mischief rule, the court made its
interpretation by taking into consideration both the issue and the intended
solution. The crux of the matter revolved around whether the defendant's
actions, although happening indoors, were targeted towards the passersby
outside, thereby creating confusion as to whether it came within the scope of
Ultimately, the court's ruling held the defendant as culpable under the Act, as
the judge concluded that the statute's primary aim was to address the more
extensive problem of solicitation in public areas. The defendant's activities,
though conducted domestically, nevertheless pursued the same malevolent goals
that the statute attempted to prevent.
Avoid Going Beyond the Mischief:
The court aligned its interpretation
with the intended solution, rather than overextending beyond the issue at hand.
This prevented unnecessary complications.
By examining the underlying issue that a law intended to fix and interpreting it
in a manner that aligns with the intent of those who drafted it, the mischief
rule can be employed to decipher a statute. Despite its wording not necessarily
being applicable to particular scenarios, the legislation's primary objective
must be met, as demonstrated in the Smith v. Hughes ruling
In the case of Novartis Ag v. Union of India
(2013) 6 SCC 1: AIR 2013 SC
1311, the court stated that the most effective means of ascertaining the meaning
and intent of a statute is through the mischief rule. For patent law in India,
this ruling is especially significant.
In the case of British Airways Plc v. Union of India
(2002) 2 SCC 95: AIR
2002 SC 391, the Supreme Court observed that advancing the remedy and
suppressing the mischief is what the court's duty is.
In the case of K.S. Paripooran v. State of Kerala
, AIR 1995 SC 1012, it
was held by the court that when interpreting provisions of law, it is important
for the court to determine the pre-existing law, identify any issues or flaws in
that law, and understand Parliament's intentions for addressing the situation.
Legislation, especially if enacted to prevent social mischief, is typically
interpreted to benefit the general public.
In legal decision-making, the mischief rule of interpretation proves to be a
valuable asset, providing judges with the means to deduce and apply the accurate
intention and objective of legislation. By going beyond the literal text of a
statute and instead focusing on the historical context, purpose of the law, and
legislative correction proposed, judges can arrive at interpretations that
coincide with the legislature's overarching ambitions.
Adopting this strategy guarantees that the law serves its purpose, especially in
situations where the wording of the statute is insufficient to account for every
given situation, ultimately encouraging a fair, just and effective operation of
the legal system.
- Interpretation of Statutes, D. N. Mathur, Central Law Publications
- Interpretation of Statutes, P. Krishnaswamy, Asia Law House