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Classification And General Principles Of Interpretation

The word Interpretation has been derived from the latin word interpretari which means to explain or expound. It means the act of explaining something or translating the document into its real context. The primary function of the court to find out the intention of the legislature in the language used in the statute. In order to interpret the statute, the court has to follow certain rules. And these principles are called rules of interpretation. Interpretation of statutes is the correct understanding of the law which is used to determine the exact intention of the legislature.

The word Interpretation and Construction are synonymously same but jurisprudentially they are different. Interpretation means the art of explaining something or giving its natural or ordinary meaning whereas construction means drawing conclusions even though the same does not appear if words used in the statute are given their natural meaning.
A statute have the following particulars:
  1.  SHORT TITLE- It is the byname of the statute for the identification only such as the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Indian Contract Act, 1872, code of criminal procedure, 1973, etc
  2. LONG TITLE- It is mentioned at the head of the statute and explains the brief introduction about the statute. For example in crpc : An act to consolidate and amend the law relating to criminal procedure, etc.
  3. MARGINAL NOTE- marginal notes are those notes which are stated before the section. For example; section 94 of the Indian penal code states; act to which a person is compelled by threats, etc.
  4. HEADINGS- It represents the group of sections. It is generally heading of the group of sections. In another word we can say the chapter name or sub-chapter name.
  5. DEFINITION OF INTERPRETATION CLAUSE- These exist generally at the starting of the statute for example; section 2 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, which states certain definitions such as proposal, promise, promisee and promisor, consideration, agreement, reciprocal promises, void agreement, contract, voidable contract and void contract.
  6. PROVISOS- it means where a general law has been stated in the statute or natural presumption had the proviso. It do not inserted in the enacting part of the statute but at the end of the general rule or law.
  7. ILLUSTRATIONS- they are present at the end of the section. We may say that they are the examples or illustrating the proivision of law described therein.
  8. EXPLANATIONS- They are inserted by the legislature itself to remove the doubts which can be arise while reading the provision of the law. For example; under section 108 of the IPC the word abettor has been defined as an explanation just to remove the doubt that who can be the abettor.
There are generally two types of statutes:
  1. Temporary statute
  2. Permanent statute
Temporary statutes are those statutes which has to passed every year whereas permanent statutes are those which remain in enforce until repealed or amended. There is no time period mentioned in the temporary statutes. For example The Finance Act is a temporary act which is required to be passed every year.

Classification of statutes

Statutes may be classified into 12 types;
  1. Codifying statute:
    Codifying statutes are those statutes which are in written form. The code contains the pre-existing as well as the existing common laws
  2. Consolidating statute:
    These statutes are those statutes which consolidate the law on a particular subject at one place.
  3. Declaratory statute:
    declaratory statute is a statute to remove the doubts arising in future. For example the word declared is used in the preamble of every statute generally but not necessarily. Mere the use of expression declared does not make the statute a declaratory statute.
  4. Remedial statute:
    a remedial statute is one in which a remedy is provided. Its main object is to make improvements in the enforcement of one's right and for the redress of wrongs. For example- maternity benefits act, 1961, the workmen's compensation act 1923.
  5. Enabling statute:
    Enabling acts are one which makes the certain acts lawful which are generally unlawful. It makes such provision legally valid in the eyes of law. Such a statute grants power to make certain rules without prejudice to foregoing general provision.
  6. Disabling statute:
    a disabling statute are one which cuts down the right conferred by the common law.
  7. Penal statute:
    penal statutes are those which are providing different penalties for different offences. It is a statute which punishes the certain acts or wrongs. For example; Indian penal code, 1959, Prevention of food and adulteration act, 1954
  8. Taxing statute:
    taxing statute is one which is im posing taxes on certain goods and services. It can be in the form of income tax, gift tax, wealth tax, sales tax, etc. its object is to collect the revenue for the state's welfare. It is the source of revenue generation for the state.
  9. Explanatory statute:
    these are the statutes which explains the law or in other words remove the doubts or clarify the ambiguity arising in the previous tatute. For example; Royal mines act, 1963 was passed in order to remove the ambiguity arising in the previous statute i.e; Royal mines act 1688. The Royal mines act, 1963 was enacted for the better explanation of the earlier act.
  10.  Amending statute:
    amending statute is one which makes changes in the original law by addition so as to effect an improvement. For example; Direct taxes amendment act, 1974, criminal law (amendment) act, 1983.
  11. Repealing statute:
    repealing statute is one which removes or repeals the earlier statute. The termination of provision may be the express or explicit language of the statute.
  12. Curative or validating statute:
    A curative or validating statute is one which is passed to remove the defects in the previous law and to cure the defects of the prior law. A validating statute normally contains the expression notwithstanding any judgement order or decree of any court.

General Principles Of Interpretation

There are certain principles of interpretation which are used by the court while interpreting the statute from time to time.
  1. The Literal Or Grammatical Interpretation:
    The first rule of interpretation is the literal or general rule of interpretation. The words of the statute are first understood in their natural and ordinary meaning. According to Lord Brougham is to take the exact meaning of the words which the legislature have given them, and to take the meaning which the words given naturally imply, unless where the construction of those words is either by the preamble or by the context of the words in question, controlled or altered.

    If the meaning of such statute is clear and unambigious then the effect should be given to the provision whatever may be the consequences. It is the duty of the court to find out the intension of the legislature while interpreting the law. The words of the statutes are plain and unambigious then the effect should be given to the provision unless there arise any ambiguity. The objective of the rules used by the court is to interpret the law while keeping in mind the intension of the legislature.

    In the case Saraswati Sugar Mills v/s Haryana State Board [i], the supreme court held that the word vegetable in entry 15 of schedule I of Water (Prevention and control of pollution) cess Act, 1977 is to be understood as in common parlance. Botanical meaning cannot be given to the word. Therefore, sugarcane is not a vegetable. As such industries manufacturing sugar from sugarcane do not fall within the abovementioned entry and are, therefore, not liable to pay cess. The industry manufacturing alcohol from molasses could not be considered an induatry within the above entry.
  2. The Mischief rule:
    The Mischief rule of interpretation has originated in the Heydon's case. This rule is also known as purposive construction or mischief rule. The word mischief means the playful misbehaviour or harm caused by someone or something. This rule enables four matters of consideration in construing a statute such as:
    1. What was the law before making of the act
    2. What was the reason behind making of the law or what was the mischief or defect which the law did not provide
    3. What is the remedy which the act has provided
    4. what is the reason of the remedy.
    The rule then detects the defects and enhance the law for providing the remedy. If there is any defect in any statute then the court must adopt the purposive construction which shall supress the mischief or defect and advance the remedy.

    In the case Carew and Company v. Union of India [ii], the appellant, a public limited company, sought to float a new company. It was proposed that the new company will take over the sugar unit of the appellant companywhich will work as an undertaking of the new company. The application of the appellant was, however, rejected under section 23(4) of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969.

    The supreme court allowed the appeal and while interpreting the word undertaking observed that when more than more than one construction are possible, that which supreses the mishchief and advances he remedy has to be preferred. If the language used in a statute can be construed widely so as to salvag the remedial intendment, the court must adopt it. The word 'undertaking', therefore has to be liberally interpreted.
  3. The Golden Rule:
    It is the modification of the literal or grammatical rule of interpretation. Ordinarily the court must follow the true meaning of the word or law given in the statute but when such words used in a statute by their natural or ordinarily meaning leads to injustice or evasion, etc then the court must modify the meaning of that word to that extent that it must not cause injustice to anybody. When there is a possibility that the court has faced with more than one interpretation then the court has to take that meaning into consideration which arrive more closely to the true intension of the legislature.

    In the case lee v. knapp[iii], interpretation of the word 'stop' was involved. Under section 77 (1) of the Road Traffic Act, 1960 a driver causing accident shall stop after the accident. In this case the driver stopped for a moment after causing an accident and then moved away. Applying the golden rule the court held that requirement of the section had not been followed by the driver as he had not stopped for a reasonable period requiring interested persons to make necessary inquiries from him about the accident.
  4. Harmonious construction:
    The basis of the harmonious construction is that the legislature must have not intended to contradict itself. Where there are two provisions of the same statute which are conflicting in nature or in other words which are overlapping to each other then the court will try to construe the provisions in such a manner that if possible it would give effect to both the provision by harmonising them with each other.

    Moreover one provision is the exception to the general provision of the law. One provision of the act cannot make the other provision of the same act repugnant. It can be said when the legislature gives something by one hand then it cannot be take away by the other hand.

    In the case Ishwari khetan Sugar Mills v. State of Uttar Pradesh[iv], the state government proposed to acquire sugar industries in the state under the Uttar Pradesh Sugar Undertakings (Acquisitions) Act, 1971. This was challenged on the ground that sugar industry had been declared a controlled industry by the union under the Industries (Development and legislation) Act, 1951 and consequently the state did not have the power of acquisition or requisition of property with respect to declared and controlled industries.

    The Supreme Court, by majority, held that the field of acquisition is not accepted by the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951 and the state's power to acquire declared industries was an independent power under entry 42 of list III.

    In the case Jagdish Singh v. Lt. Governor, Delhi[v], it was held by the Supreme Court that in case of conflict between various provisions of the rule, harmonious construction should be made and statute or rule made thereunder should be read as a whole. One provision should be construed with reference to another so as to make the rule consistent. One rule cannot be used to defeat another rule in the same rules.
  5. The Statute should be read as whole:
    It is one of the most important rule of interpretation. The statute must be read as whole means a provision cannot be read or understood partially. We cannot understand the intension of the legislature behind making of that law if we do not read the statute as whole. A provision cannot be interpreted in isolation. Sometimes the meaning of the words used in the section may be understood with the help of the other words used in the same section.

    Sometimes a single word can be used many times in the same statute but it does not mean that they have the different meaning unless the contrary intension appears from the context. The whole context should be determine. There are some words which are the indications of application of this principle such as; if not inconsistent with the context or subject-matter, 'unless the context otherwise requires' and unless a contrary intension appears.

    In the case Bhavnagar University v. Palitana Sugar Mill Private Limited[vi], the Supreme court observed that it is the basic principle of the construction of statute that the same should be read as whole, then chapter by chapter, section by section and word by word. Recourse to construction or interpretation of statute is necessary when there is ambiguity, obscurity or inconsistency therein and not otherwise. An effort must be made to give effect to all parts of the statute and unless absolute necessary no par thereof shall be rendered surplus or redundant.

  1. Saraswati Sugar Mills v. Haryana State Board, AIR 1992 SC 224.
  2. Carew and Company v. Union of India, AIR 1975 SC 2260.
  3. Lee v. Knapp, (1967) 2 QB 442.
  4. Ishwari Khetan Sugar mills v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1980 SC 1955.
  5. Jagdish Singh v. Lt. Governor, Delhi, AIR 1997. SC 2239.
  6. Bhavnagar University v. Palitana Sugar Mill Private Limited, AIR 2003 SC 511.
Written By: Diksha Sharma, B.A.LL.B(Hons), School of law, Raffles University, Neemrana, Rajasthan

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