The term interpretation means “To give meaning to”. Governmental power has been divided into three wings namely the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Interpretation of statues to render justice is the primary function of the judiciary. It is the duty of the Court to interpret the Act and give meaning to each word of the Statute. The most common rule of interpretation is that every part of the statute must be understood in a harmonious manner by reading and construing every part of it together. The maxim “A Verbis legis non est recedendum” means that you must not vary the words of the statute while interpreting it. The object of interpretation of statutes is to determine the intention of the legislature conveyed expressly or impliedly in the language used. In Santi swarup Sarkar v pradeep kumar sarkar, the Supreme Court held that if two interpretations are possible of the same statute, the one which validates the statute must be preferred.
Kinds of Interpretation
There are generally two kind of interpretation;
- literal interpretation
- logical interpretation.
Giving words their ordinary and natural meaning is known as literal interpretation or litera legis. It is the duty of the court not to modify the language of the Act and if such meaning is clear and unambiguous, effect should be given to the provisions of a statute whatever may be the consequence. The idea behind such a principle is that the legislature, being the supreme law making body must know what it intends in the words of the statute. Literal interpretation has been called the safest rule because the legislature’s intention can be deduced only from the language through which it has expressed itself. The bare words of the Act must be construed to get the meaning of the statute and one need not probe into the intention of the legislature. The elementary rule of construction is that the language must be construed in its grammatical and literal sense and hence it is termed as litera legis or litera script. The Golden Rule is that the words of a statute must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning. This interpretation is supreme and is called the golden rule of interpretation.
Exceptions to the rule of literal interpretation
Generally a statute must be interpreted in its grammatical sense but under the following circumstances it is not possible:Logical defects
- incompleteness or lacunae
If the words of a statute give rise to two or more construction, then the construction which validates the object of the Act must be given effect while interpreting. It is better to validate a thing than to invalidate it or it is better the Act prevails than perish. The purpose of construction is to ascertain the intention of the parliament.
The mischief rule
The mischief rule of interpretation originated in Heydon’s case. If there are two interpretations possible for the material words of a statute, then for sure and true interpretation there are certain considerations in the form of questions. The following questions must b considered.
- What was the common law before making the Act?
- What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide a remedy?
- What is the remedy resolved by the parliament to cure the disease of the common wealth?
- The true reason of the remedy.
The judge should always try to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy. The mischief rule says that the intent of the legislature behind the enactment should be followed.
Generally, the court is bound to harmonize the various provisions of an Act passed by the legislature during interpretation so that repugnancy is avoided. Sometimes certain matters might have been omitted in a statute. In such cases, they cannot be added by construction as it amounts to making of laws or amending which is a function of legislature. A new provision cannot be added in a statute giving it meaning not otherwise found therein. A word omitted from the language of the statute, but within the general scope of the statute, and omitted due to inadvertence is known as Casus Omissus.
Rule of ejusdem generis
Ejusdem generis means “of the same kind”. Generally particular words are given their natural meaning provided the context does not require otherwise. If general words follow particular words pertaining to a class, category or genus then it is construed that general words are limited to mean the person or thing of the same general class, category or genus as those particularly exposed. Eg: if the husband asks the wife to buy bread, milk and cake and if the wife buys jam along with them, it is not invalidated merely because of not specifying it but is valid because it is of the same kind. The basic rule is that if the legislature intended general words to be used in unrestricted sense, then it need not have used particular words at all. This rule is not of universal application.