The golden rule of interpretation is a modification of the literal rule of
interpretation. Where the literal rule lays emphasis on the literal meaning of
the words used in legal language, the golden rule interprets the words in such a
way that the absurdities and anomalies of literal interpretation are avoided.
The golden rule modifies the language as well as the grammar of the words used
in statutes and other documents of interpretation, thus providing the actual
meaning of the words.
Origin of Golden Rule:
In the year 1857, for the first time, Lord Wensleydale
propounded the golden rule of interpretation, in Grey Vs. Pearson. Thereafter
this rule has become famous by the name of Wensleydale's Golden rule.
Meaning of Golden Rule:
The golden rules departs from its strictly literal
rules, it is elaboration or extension of literal rule. Golden rule of
interpretation allows judges to depart from a word normal meaning in order to
avoid an absurd result.
According to the golden rule in the construction of a statute, the Court Must
Adhere to the ordinary meaning of the words used in the construction of the
Golden rule can be used in a narrow sense and wider Sense.
The narrow approach is used when the word used in the statute
is ambiguous which means it has more than one meaning. Its upon the judge to use
the meaning which is acceptable to the case.
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.
Indian Case Law
In India there are several good examples where the Supreme Court or High Courts
have applied the Golden Construction of Statutes:
In Ramji Missar v. State of Bihar
in construing section 6 of the Probation of
Offenders Act, 1958, the Supreme Court laid down that the crucial date on which
the age of the offender had to be determined is not the date of offence, but the
date on which the sentence is pronounced by the trial court An accused who on
the date of offence was below 21 years of age but on the date on which the
judgment pronounced, if he was above 21 years, he is not entitled to the benefit
of the statute.
This conclusion reached having regard to the object of the Act.
The object of the Statute is to prevent the turning of the youthful offenders
into criminals by their association with the hardened criminals of mature age
within the walls of the prison. An accused below 21 years is entitled to the
benefit of the Act by sending him under the supervision of the probation officer
instead of jail.
Lee v. Knapp (1967)
In this case, interpretation of the world 'stop' was
involved. Under section 77(1) of the road traffic Act, 1960 a driver causing an
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 time of period Requiring
interested persons to make necessary inquiries for him about the accident.
In U. P. Bhoodan Yagna Samiti v. Brij Kishore
, the Apex Court held that the
meaning of the term 'landless person' under Section 14 of the Bhoodan Yagna Act,
1953, signified 'landless labourers' only, and not 'landless businessmen'. The
object of the Act was to provide land to labourers engaged in agriculture, and
not to businessmen.
In State of Mysore v. Sundaram Motor Private Ltd
, In this case ambiguity wsa
motor vehicle kept in the state According to Section 3(1) of Mysore motor
vehicle Act all the motor vehicles were taxed. So it was held that motir vehicle
kept in the state was those vehicles which qre using all facilities provided by
Dimakuchi the state v. Management
(AIR) 1958, In this case the expression was
interpreted under section 2k Industrial dispute Act . The expression by person
was constitute the scheme and object of the act. Any person is only the person
who have direct and substantial Interest in industry. A stronger cannot be
considered any person under Industrial dispute Act.
Significance of Golden Rule
The significance of the golden rule in the interpretation is explained followed:
- It becomes the duty of the Court to give effect to meaning of a law when
it can lead to absurdity or defeat the ends of the enactment. The law
requires the court sometimes to go to the extent of modification in the
grammatical and ordinary sense of the words
- The court shall not go in the path that defeats the provision of a law
whose meaning is, prima facie, reasonably plain and lucid. However, this
dose not mean that a law could be recast. It must be possible to find the
meaning contended for out the words that are being used.
- Unless the words of the law are absurd, ambiguous or without a proper
meaning, it is preferable to construe them through their natural and
Application of Golden Rule:
Application of golden rule depends upon the
consequences. Where the situation demands the application of the golden rule it
is important to consider the effect or consequences, which would result come out
from it, for the of one point out the real meaning of the words.
Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries Ltd
, Viscount Simon, L. C., observed
that where two constructions are possible, the court will avoid the one that
would prevent the object of the statute from being achieved, thus defeating the
intent of the legislature. One should always adopt that meaning which gives a
reasonably clear meaning to the expression.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages of the golden rule which are as
Advantages of Golden rule
- It allows the judge to choose the most sensible meaning where there is
more than one meaning to the words in the Act or Statute.
- It respects the words of the parliament except in limited situations,
the golden rule.
- It provides an escape route where there is a problem with using the
- It can also provide reasonable decisions in cases where the literal rule
would lead to repugnant situations (this goes for the wider meaning) – This
is present in the Re Sigsworth case in the case example, because allowing the son to
benefit from his crime would have been unjust.
- A major advantage of the Golden Rule is that judge can technically
change the law by changing the meaning of words in statues. They can,
potentially infringing the separation of power between legal and
- Another main advantages of the Golden Rule is that drafting errors in
status can be corrected immediately. This is seen in the R V Allen (1872)
case where the loopholes were closed, the decision was in line with
parliament's intentions, and it gave a more just outcome.
Disadvantage Of Golden Rule
- There is no real guidelines as to when it can be used.
- It is very limited in it is use, so it is only used on rare occasions.
- It's not always possible to predict whether courts will use the golden
rule, making it hard for lawyers and people who are advising their clients.
- What seems to be absurd to one judge may not be to another so this means
a case outcome is decided upon the judge, rather than the law.
- The Golden Rule won't be help if there is no absurdity in the statute.
For example, in the case of London and North Eastern Railway v. Berriman, where the
widow couldn't get compensation because the wording of the statute didn't allow
for this circumstance.
If the language of Statute is clear, unambiguous, and ordinary, then its meaning
should be in accordance with that. Statutes should be interpreted to materialize
the intention of the legislature. Words leading to more than one meaning should
always be understood in the meaning which is balanced and discretional. Should
avoid or prevent inconsistent or inconvenient results. Such interpretation
should be avoided and the result is directly causing injustice. Meaningless and
Illogical Interpretation should not be accepted.
If the language of Statute is
not clear or leads to more than one meaning or not showing the intention of the
legislature, then the language used in Statute could be reformed and other rules
of interpretation can be used for the help. This is the Golden Rule of
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