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Interpretation of statute: Critical analysis on Golden Rule of Interpretation

Interpretation is the primary function of the court. Whenever there is a dispute regarding the true meaning of the statute it is important as well as the responsibility of the court to provide with the meaning and remove any kind of ambiguity that has occurred in the statute. Interpretation simply means giving the true meaning of the provision in the statute. There are rules of interpretation such as Literal rule of interpretation, Golden rule of interpretation, mischief rule of interpretation.

The reason behind coming up with these rules is to do a proper interpretation and provide with the justice accordingly. If there is any ambiguity or the exact meaning of the statute has not been understood in a proper and true sense fair justice cannot be provided. This article deals with the Golden Rule of Interpretation in a broad sense. The golden rule of Interpretation is the modification of Literal rule. A detailed analysis has been provided in this article.

Before we get into the analysis regarding The Golden Rule of Interpretation, we need to understand the meaning of certain terms as follows:
The expression Interpretation has been derived from the Latin term Interpreteri which suggests to elucidate, expound and understand or to translate. Interpretation refers to interpret the legal provision for the aim of applying them during a proper and meaningful manner as the case may be. It's a process by which the court determines the appropriate meaning of the words employed within the statute. There are three organs of the state; Legislative, Executive and Judiciary.

The concept of interpretation of statute cares with Judiciary. The Legislative body forms the acts and statutes and therefore the purpose of executing those acts and statutes is completed by the Executive body.

When a specific act or statute is formed the Judiciary body isn't present, hence while interpreting such act and statue the judiciary might encounter certain difficulties and thus a correct interpretation is required. The method involves an act of discovering the proper meaning of the language which has been utilized in the statute and therefore the words shall be free from ambiguity (when a provision provides two or more meaning).

Interpretation of a statute is therefore correct understanding of the law. The entire process of interpreting an act or statute is usually adopted by the courts to work out the precise intention of the Legislature. The target of the court isn't only merely to read the law but is additionally to use it during a meaningful manner to suit from the case to case.

According to Salmond:
the process by which the courts seek to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed

The purpose and objective are as follows:
  • To understand the techniques of interpreting words mentioned under the statue.
  • To explore the true meaning of provisions mentioned in the statue.
  • To find out the intention of the legislature behind framing the law.
On the other hand, construction means to conclude albeit the enactment lacks specific word or the words doesn't exist. The most purpose is to work out the legal effects of the words utilized in the statute.

According to Cooley Interpretation differs from construction in that the former is the art of finding out the true sense of any form of words; that is, the sense which their author is intended to convey; and of enabling others to derive from them the same idea which the author intended to convey

Absurdity is when the result of a particular interpretation so vague that a court will feel justified in departing from a plain meaning.

There are certain rules which have been provided for Interpretation of statutes:
  1. Literal Rule of Interpretation
  2. Golden Rule of interpretation
  3. Mischief Rule of Interpretation
  4. Harmonious Rule.
This article deals with the analysis of the Golden rule of Interpretation.

Critical analysis on The Golden Rule of Interpretation
The Golden rule of interpretation is essentially a modification of Literal rule. The literal rule means when the words utilized in the text are to tend or interpreted in their natural or ordinary meaning. If while interpreting natural meaning results in any sought of repugnance, ambiguity, absurdity or hardship then the court must modify the aiming to the extent of injustice or absurdity caused and no further to stop the results.

Justice Holmes stated:

A word is not crystal, transparent and unchanged. It is the skin of the living thought and it may vary greatly in colour and content according to the circumstances and the time in which the word is used.

Whenever the meaning of the words, phrases, expression or sentence is uncertain it may be a case of departing from the plain meaning and there may be a requirement for application of Golden Rule. It is also referred to as an exception to the literal rule.

The main purpose of the court is to supply justice and to deliver it proper interpretation has got to be done. When an interpretation is completed, the literal rule is meant to be used first but if it results to absurdity the grammatical ordinary sense of the words may be modified on avoiding absurdity and inconsistency but no further. It tries to avoid absurdity resulted from the literal rule of interpretation.

Lord Wensleydale mentioned it as Golden rule of Interpretation and implemented it within the case of Grey v Pearson wherein it became profounded, after which it had been called as Lord Wensleydale�s golden rule of interpretation.

The ultimate purpose of the court is to supply justice and to deliver it proper interpretation has got to be done. When an interpretation is completed, the literal rule is to be applied first but if it results to absurdity the grammatical ordinary sense of the words could also be modified on avoiding absurdity and inconsistency but no further. In short, Golden Rule tries to avoid absurdity resulted from the literal rule of interpretation.

In the case of Warburton v Loveland Burton J observed:
I apprehend it is a rule in the construction of statutes, that, in the first instance, the grammatical sense of the words is to be adhered to. If that is contrary to, or inconsistent with any expressed intention, or declared purpose of the statute, or if it would involve any absurdity, repugnance, or inconsistency, the grammatical sense must then be modified, extended, or abridged so far as to avoid such inconvenience, but no further

There are two ways as to how the Golden rule is used:
  1. Narrow approach: The narrow approach is used when the word used in the statute is ambiguous which means it has more than one meaning. It's upon the judge to use the meaning which is acceptable to the case.
  2. Wide approach: The wide approach is often used when there's just one literal meaning of a word, however, to use it might be absurd. Therefore, the court may modify the meaning of the word to avoid absurdity.

The Golden Rule was used in the R v Allen case (1872) where the defendant was charged with bigamy (s.57 of offences against the person act 1861) which states: �whosoever being married shall marry any other person during the lifetime of the former husband or wife is guilty of an offence�. According to The Literal Rule, bigamy would not be possible since civil courts do not recognise second marriages, therefore The Golden Rule was applied to decide whether the word �marry� should be seen as �to undergo ceremony� and therefore the conviction was upheld.

In the case of Lee v. Knapp (1967) 2 QB 442 also known as Hit-stop-run case, the provision specifies under Section 77(1) of Road and Transport Act, 1960 Duty to stop, and furnish particulars, in case of accident:
If in any case, owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road, an accident occurs whereby personal injury is caused to a person other than the driver of that motor vehicle or damage is caused to a vehicle other than that motor vehicle or a trailer drawn thereby or to an animal other than an animal in or on that motor vehicle or a trailer drawn thereby, the driver of the motor vehicle shall stop and. if required so to do by any person having reasonable grounds for so requiring, give his name and address, and also the name and address of the owner and the identification marks of the vehicle.

In this case, the driver stopped for a flash after causing the accident then moved away.

The court didn't held the literal rule out this case, it applied the Golden Rule and said that the driver didn't follow the need of this section even though he stopped for a moment but not for an inexpensive amount of time for the enquiry to be made.

In another case, R v Sigsworth (1935) also known as MFP case, a mother being killed by her son. According to the provision in Administration of Justice, 2005 which provides that the estate of the mother shall be inherited by her next kin ie: her son. This was the literal meaning of the provision, but here during this case, the court didn't apply the literal meaning and applied the golden rule the rationale being the son is that the murderer of his mother the court wasn't prepared to let the murderer have any benefit from his crime.

Advantages and Disadvantages
There are certain advantages also as disadvantages of Golden rule which has been mentioned below:

  1. It allows the court to switch absurdity, aiming to the extent to provide justice.
  2. It respects the laws and therefore the statutes that are formed by the parliament by applying the literal rule, the golden rule is to be applied only there are an absurdity and inconsistency created by The Literal Rule of Interpretation.

  1. The facility of Golden Rule is extremely limited because the literal rule is to be used first only in circumstances where literal rule creates absurdity.
  2. There is no real guidance regarding Golden rule on when it shall be applied, every judge may have a special opinion what seems to be absurd to at least one judge might not seem absurd to a different.
  3. It only allows the judge to vary the wording of the statute to really limited circumstances.


The main purpose of the court is to deliver Justice. There might be situations when a proper interpretation of the statutes is required to deliver so. Legislature makes the laws and it's upon the discretion of the judge to interpret it consistent with the cases. It's extremely important to know the intention of the legislature within the making of the statute.

There are times when the statute isn't clear, unambiguous or have an absurdity, it is the responsibility of the judge to urge obviate such absurdity and interpret the statutes. Golden Rule is essentially the modification of Literal rule. it's applied to resolve ambiguity and provides the aiming to the statute. It's upon the discretion of the judges to use these rules of Interpretation because the case may be.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Sweta Bhattacharya

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Authentication No: OT29339897948-19-1020

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