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Interpretation of Statutes

- When a document is presented as a statute the function of the court is to interpret that document “according to the intent of them that made it”



- Court is bound to endeavour to give some meaning to the statute however ambiguous it might be.



- The main rule of interpretation is that if the language is clear and explicit the court must give effect to it.



- Hence the court’s function is jus dicere: the words of a statute must not be overruled by the judges, reform must be left to the Parliament.

What is a Statute?

Statute generally means the law or the Act of the legislature authority.

Basic approach to a statute

(a) Read Statute as a whole and




* Inlans Revenue Commissioners vs. Hinchy




- Lord Reid: "it is no doubt true that every Act should be read as a whole"




(b) If Language is plain, do not stretch / contract it




The general rule of the interpretation is that statutes must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning. If the words are clear and free from ambiguity, there is no need to refer to other means of interpretation

Role of interpretation

Difficulty arises when language is not clear. Therefore comes the role of interpretation / construction and their distinction.



Broadly two interpretation aids are available:-



(1) Internal aids - which are existing in the Statutes itself


(2) External aids - which are found outside the Statutes.

Describe what is meant by intrinsic/internal aids

Intrinsic aids are found within the Act itself. Judges may use these to understand the meaning of the word or phrase in question.




if the words in a statute are vague and ambiguous then internal aids may be sought for interpretation

Enacting parts of the same statute

- Changes in language have a decisive effect on construction of statutes.



- Context as a decisive factor



- Effect of language or change of language



- Effect that one section might have on another section of the same statute



- If the two sections are repugnant to each other



- Find the secondary meaning for one or more of the words or phrases in question



- Treat the apparently conflicting provisions as dealing with distinct matters,



- Assuming that the conflicting provision applies as an exception to the general rule containing in the other provision



- if the repugnancy is total and wholly inescapable



- apply the maxim that ‘later laws repeal earlier contrary laws’



* Steeples vs. Derbyshire County Council


- One section affecting the construction of another



* R. vs. Prince


- S. 55 of the Offenses Against Person Act:



'unlawfully take..any unmarried girl, being under the age of 16 years, out of the possession and against the will of her father or mother'



- S.50 of the Act it was a felony to "carnally know and abuse any girl being above the age of 10 years and under the age of 12 years"



- The two sections mismatches. And he could not be convicted of the misdemeanour because she was in fact not above the age of 10


(i) Context:

- If the words of a statute are ambiguous then the context must be taken into consideration.




- The context includes other provisions of the statute, its preamble, the existing state of law and other legal provisions.




- The intention behind the meaning of the words and the circumstances under which they are framed must be considered.

(ii) Title:

- Short/ Long Title - Purpose of title is to give a general description about the object of the act.




Ex: Reference to IPC, CPC, Cr. PC, I.D. Act etc.




- Title is not considered if language is clear.




- Ashwini Kumar v ArbindaBose


“Supreme Court Advocates (Practice in High Courts) Act,” Its Long title “An Act to authorize advocates of Supreme Court to Practice as of right in any High Court “ was referred to end the controversy.

Long Title

- The long title sets out in general terms, the purpose of the Act and it often precedes the preamble.




- It must be distinguished from short title which implies only an abbreviation for purposes of reference, the object of which is identification and not description.




* Ex: The Civil Procedure Code, 1908 is a long title and CPC 1908 is a short title.




- The true nature of the law is determined not by the name given to it but by its substance.




- However, the long title is a legitimate aid to the construction.




- While dealing with the Supreme Court Advocates (Practice in High Court) Act, 1951 bearing a full title as “An Act to authorise Advocates of the Supreme Court to practice as of right in any High Court”, S.R. Das, J. observed:




“One cannot but be impressed at once with the wording of the full title of the Act. Although there are observations in earlier English Cases that the title is not a part of the statute and is, therefore, to be excluded from consideration in construing the statutes. It is now a settled law that the title of a statute is an important part of the Act and may be referred, although it cannot override the clear meaning of an enactment

Short Title

- Stated in a separate subsection



- Purpose-to provide a brief identifying label



- Even though it is not as helpful as the long title or the preamble the short title can be a guide to interpretation.



* ReBoaler


“I agree that the court should give less importance to the title than to the enacting part, and less to the short title than to the full title, for the short title being a label,accuracy may be sacrificed to brevity”



* Few statutes and their short title:



Short title: AIR FORCE



- This Act may be cited as the Air Force Act.

(iii) Preamble:

- The Act Starts with a preamble and is generally small. The main objective and purpose of the Act are found in the Preamble of the Statute. “Preamble is the Act in a nutshell. It is a preparatory statement. It contains the recitals showing the reason for enactment of the Act. If the language of the Act is clear the preamble must be ignored. The preamble is an intrinsic aid in the interpretation of an ambiguous Act.




- The preamble sets out the facts and assumptions upon which the statute is based. In the modern statutes preamble has become a rarity.




- In law the long title and the preamble are each the same and what is strictly a long title is sometimes erroneously referred to as the preamble.




- The preamble sets out the factual background which prompted the enactment of the Act.




* Attorney-General v. Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover


"if enacting words are plain and unambiguous one does not need to look at the preamble to an Act of Parliament, but if they are not clear and unambiguous one may look at it."



(iv) Headings:

- Heading are of two kinds




(1) Heading prefixed to a section


(2) Heading prefixed to a group or set of sections




- Heading is not useful if language is clear.




- They have Parliamentary authority and can be consulted to resolve an ambiguity in the text.




- Used by the judges in the case of




* Dixon vs. British Broadcasting Corporation


where the judges referred to the headings in the trade Union and Labour Relations Act

(v) Marginal notes/side notes:

- Marginal notes are the notes that are printed at the side of the section in an Act and it summarizes the effect of the section.




- The Privy Council has ruled that the marginal note to the section of an enactment cannot be referred to for the purpose of construing the Act.




- There is no justification for restricting the contents of a section by its marginal notes. They are not part of the Act.




- A marginal note is merely an abstract of the clause intended to catch the eye.




*Stephen vs. Cuckfield


- Although a marginal note cannot control the clear language of the section, or override the provisions of the enactment, the Courts can consider it for the propose of arriving at a conclusion as to what according to the legislature was the purpose of the section




* Chandler vs. DPP


- proposition that marginal notes cannot be used as aids to construction in any circumstances.




- Rationale behind the case as stated by Reid LJ:


•the side-notes are inserted by the draftsman and are mere “catch-words”




-Why Lord Reid’s proposition is disputed:




1. the same could be said of the cross-headings, if they can be used so can the side notes be used as an aid




2. a judge cannot be called upon by law to ignore what is printed in the Act

(vi) Punctuation:

- Punctuation marks cannot control, vary or modify the plain and simple meaning of the language of the statute




Full-stop, comma, colon, Semi-colon, hyphen, oblique, bracket etc.




Before 1850 in England, Punctuation played no role in interpretation.




- Courts usually give importance to them but if thereby the meaning obtained is doubtful then the courts interpret the provisions as if no punctuation marks exist and arrive at the meaning.




- As per Lord Reid; punctuations form a part of the statute.




- Judges prefer to make changes in the punctuation, rather than to make alterations to the wording of the statute




- By focusing more on the punctuation, the judges are able to appear to be interfering less with the Parliamentary text than if the words were added.

Provisos

- Not a frequently used aid




- The normal function of a proviso is to except and deal with a case which would otherwise fall within the general language of the main enactment, and its effect is confined to that case




- The main provision affects the construction of the proviso because there is a presumption based on the ordinary use of language that the scope of the proviso is affected by the scope of the main section




- If proviso contradicts main enactment, then proviso prevails as it speaks the last intention of the legislature. However attempt to reconcile both should be made first.




Rulings:-


(1) T. Devdasan v Union of India Constitution of IndiaArt 16(1) and 16(4)




(2) Ishwarbhai v Motibhai


Bombay Tenancy &Agricultural Land Act,1948 S. 43(c) - Proviso 2




- A proviso cannot be held to control the main enactment or to withdraw, by mere implication, any part of what the main provision has given. But it cannot enable something to be done which is not to be found in the enacting clause itself, on the ground that otherwise the proviso would be meaningless and senseless.




* CIT v Ajax Products Ltd


“The proviso must be construed harmoniously with the main enactment”

Exceptions and savings clauses

- Exception is added to an enactment for exempting something which would otherwise fall in the ambit of main provision.




- Ordinarily, in conflict with operative part, operative part prevails over exception and only in rare cases exception prevails over operative part.




- Difference between Proviso and Exception : Section is followed by proviso and proviso applies in certain circumstances whereas exceptions apply in all circumstances




Example of Exceptions :-




(1) IPC S. 76 to 105


(2) IPC S. 300 Exception 1 to 5




- A saving resembles a proviso in its function- qualifying the main provision, but has no particular form.




Ex;“nothing in this section shall be construed as…”




- Function of saving provision:




not to alter existing rights or powers but to preserve the rights.

Ejusdem generis rule

This applies where a statute contains a list of items followed by and 'other...'. When the courts are determining what is counts as 'other' they will look at the context of the things in the list. Eg a statute which states it applies to lions, tigers, cheetahs and other animals would apply also to leopards but not to a horse.



* Powell v Kempton Park


The Betting Act 1853 made it an offence to keep a house, office, room or other place for the purposes of betting. The House of Lords had to decide if the statute applied to Tattersall's Ring at Kempton Park Racecourse.



Held:The court applied the ejusdem generis rule and held that the other items mentioned in the statute related to places indoors whereas Tattersall's Ring was outside. There was thus no offence committed.

Ejusdem generis rule

This applies where a statute contains a list of items followed by and 'other...'. When the courts are determining what is counts as 'other' they will look at the context of the things in the list. Eg a statute which states it applies to lions, tigers, cheetahs and other animals would apply also to leopards but not to a horse.




* Powell v Kempton Park


The Betting Act 1853 made it an offence to keep a house, office, room or other place for the purposes of betting. The House of Lords had to decide if the statute applied to Tattersall's enclosure at Kempton Park Racecourse.




Held:The court applied the ejusdem generis rule and held that the other items mentioned in the statute related to places indoors whereas Tattersall's enclosure was outside. There was thus no offence committed.

Expressio unius est exclusio alterius

This means the express mention of one thing excludes all others. So if a statute stated it applies to lions and tigers (without stating and other) it would only apply to lions and tigers and not leopards and cheetahs




* R v Inhabitants of Sedgely


A statute raised taxes on 'lands, houses and coalmines'. The court held that it did not apply to limestone mines as these were not specifically mentioned nor did the statute suggest that it would apply to other types of mines.

Noscitur a sociis

This applies where there is a list of items in the statute and the item under consideration is included in the list, but the context of the items in the list suggest that the item should not be in the list. Eg if a statute stated it applied to cat baskets, toy mice, flea collars and food, under this rule a loaf of bread would not be within the remit of the statute.




* Inland Revenue v Frere


The respondent sought to deduct the interest paid on a short term loan from his income for the purposes of assessing his liability to pay tax.




The Income Tax Act of 1952 allowed "the amount of interest, annuities or other annual interest" to be deducted from the income.




Held:Under the noscitur a sociis rule, the mention of amount of interest related only to annual interest as the other items related to annual payments.




The respondent's interest payment was not an annual interest payment and therefore he could not deduct it from his income and he was required to pay tax on it.