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Legitimacy of Marginal Notes Under Interpretation of Statutes.

Marginal notes are inserted at the side of the sections in an Act and express the effect of the sections stated. In the past, the marginal notes were also referred to as aid to construction, but now as per majority Opinion, they are not considered to be helpful. The reason is that in most of the cases the marginal notes are inserted by draftsmen and not by Legislators and not even under the instructions of Legislature. In other words, marginal notes are not enacted part of the statute and are mostly subsequently inserted to summarize the section and as such, they do not carry authority of law for interpreting any statutory provision.

Definition of Marginal Notes:

  1. According to LORD REID, marginal notes cannot be used a said to construction. A side note is a poor guide to the scope of a section for it can do no more than to indicate the main object with which the section deals.
  2. LORD UPJOHN observed that a side note is a very brief precis of the section and therefore forms as most unsure guide to construction of enacting section.

Case Laws On Marginal Notes
Cases in which marginal notes have been used for legislative interpretation (e.g. R v. A.D.H., 2013 SCC 28) but this is not uniformly the case. For example, in Imperial Oil Ltd. v. Canada; Inco Ltd. v. Canada, 2006 SCC 46, it says at paragraph 57 although marginal notes are not entirely devoid of usefulness, their value is limited for a court that must address a serious problem of statutory interpretation.

These notes applied to the section cannot be used for interpreting the section. However, when words are ambiguous, marginal notes are relevant factor to be taken into consideration while interpreting the ambit of the section mentioned in case Shree Sajjan Mills Ltd v. CIT, (1985) 156 ITR 585 (SC). As held in CIT v. Ahmed Bhai Umar Bhai Company HJR 1950 SC (134,141) marginal notes applied to the section cannot be used for construing the section.

In Uttam Das Chela Sunder Das v. SGPC AIR 1996 SC 2133, it was observed that:
Marginal notes or captions undoubtedly, part and parcel of legislative exercise and the language employed therein provides the key to the legislative intent. The words employed are not mere surplusage

Marginal note is legislative and not editorial exercise, C Bhagirath v. delhi Admn AIR 1985 SC 1050. It gives an indication as to what was exactly the mischief that was intended to be remembered and throws light on the intention of legislature. It is a relevant factor to be taken into consideration in construing the ambit of the section. However with respect to Constitution, marginal notes appended to the Articles have been made use of in interpreting the articles. Marginal notes can be used to understand the legislative intent, but cannot limit or restrict the clear word used in a section.

In Balraj Kumar v. Jagatpal Singh, LORD MACHNAGHTEN observed that marginal notes to a section of an Act of parliament cannot be referred to for the purposes of construing the Act. The opinion that marginal notes can be used for interpretation had originated by mistake and has been exploded long ago.

In Commissioner of Income Tax, Bombay v. Ahmedbhai Umarbhal and Co. Bombay, JUSTICE PATANJALI SHASTRI observed that marginal notes cannot be referred to for the purpose of constructing the statute.

In Tara Prasad Singh v. Union of India, it was held that marginal notes to a section of the statute cannot take away the effect of the provisions.

In Guntaiah v. Hambamma, Karnataka Land Revenue Amendment Rules, 1960 were in question .It was held that in the title to Rule 43-G, it is stated that the grants of lands under preceding rule shall be subjected to the following conditions, This title to the rules as such cannot be taken as the key words to interpret rule 43-G. They have got the effect of only marginal notes. The marginal notes are not considered as legitimate aid to construction of any section or rule. The side notes are not considered as a part of Act.

In exceptional cases the legislators themselves insert the marginal notes. The marginal notes so inserted by the legislators are considered to be a part of enactment and can be legitimately used as aid to construction of that section, in the margin of which they are printed.

In Bengal Immunity Co. Ltd. v. State of Bihar, it was held that the marginal noted appended to Article 286 of the constitutions of India are part of the constitution because they prima facie furnish some clue to the meaning and purpose of the Article. Thus the marginal notes appended to Articles of Constitution have been held to constitute a part of constitution as passed by constituent Assembly and therefore have been used in construing the Articles of the constitution.

Use of Marginal notes for resolving ambiguity
In Anwarul Haq v. State of U.P, Section 324 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides that:
 whoever, except in the case provided for by Section 334, voluntarily causes hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, or by instrument which used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, or by means of fire or any heated substance, or by means of any explosive substance or by means of any substance which is deleterious to human body to inhale, to swallow or to receive into the blood or by means of animal shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine or with both.

The expression any instrument which, used as weapons of offence, is likely to cause death was in question before, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death was in question before the Supreme Court . The Marginal Note says voluntary causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means.

It was held that this expression should be construed with reference to the nature of instrument. This section prescribes a severe punishment where an offender voluntarily causes hurt by dangerous weapon or by other means stated in section. This expression when read in the light of marginal note of Section 324, means dangerous weapon which if used by the offender is likely to cause death.

Limitations of Marginal notes as internal aid to construction:

  1. Marginal notes are very rarely used for interpretation as they are not considered to be a good aid to construction.
  2. Only those marginal notes can be used for construing a provision which have been inserted with assent of legislature.
  3. Marginal notes cannot be resorted to for construing a provision if the word of that provision are sufficiently clear, plain and precise and give out only one meaning.
  4. Marginal notes can be called in aid only when language suffers from ambiguity and more than one construction is possible.
  5. Marginal notes cannot control the plain meaning of words of the enactment.
  6. Marginal notes can be used for interpretation of that section only to which they are appended. In other words, the Marginal Notes of one section cannot be used to interpret another section.
  7. Marginal notes cannot frustrate the effect of a clear provision.

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