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
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:
There are generally two types of statutes:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Temporary statute
- 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;
- 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
- Consolidating statute:
These statutes are those statutes which
consolidate the law on a particular subject at one place.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Disabling statute:
a disabling statute are one which cuts down the right
conferred by the common law.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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:
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.
- What was the law before making of the act
- What was the reason behind making of the law or what was the mischief or
defect which the law did not provide
- What is the remedy which the act has provided
- what is the reason of 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
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
Written By: Diksha Sharma
- Saraswati Sugar Mills v. Haryana State Board, AIR 1992 SC 224.
- Carew and Company v. Union of India, AIR 1975 SC 2260.
- Lee v. Knapp, (1967) 2 QB 442.
- Ishwari Khetan Sugar mills v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1980 SC 1955.
- Jagdish Singh v. Lt. Governor, Delhi, AIR 1997. SC 2239.
- Bhavnagar University v. Palitana Sugar Mill Private Limited, AIR 2003 SC
School of law, Raffles University, Neemrana,