Libertatem Magazine

Rules of Statutory Interpretation: An Overview

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Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary are the three organs of a state, according to the doctrine of separation of powers. The judiciary is involved in the interpretation of statutes. It is the process by which the courts establish the real meanings of terms used in legislation. Here, the member of the legislative assembly makes legislation for the general public and then the acts get applied by the Agencies made by the Government. Then the respective courts will interpret the law of statutes and the Judges and Magistrates resolve the conflict raised by the Parliament and Government. Legislation passed by parliament, accepted by Government. But the problem arises when Parliament makes laws and Government declines to Accept them. The courts frequently use the interpretation and construction method to figure out what the legislature’s actual meaning was. It is also utilized to determine the real connotation of any legislation or document in relation to the legislature’s actual intent. The aim of the judiciary cannot be restricted to mere interpretation but must extend to meaningful application of the laws, on a case-to-case basis.


Judiciary, Interpretation of Statutes, Legislation, Parliament, Construction. 


The term “interpretation” refers to the process of determining the real meaning of the language employed in legislation. The accurate comprehension of the law is based on the interpretation of legislation. The need for interpretation arises due to the imperfection of language. Language may not always explain or signify the intention with which Law or Statute was written. At the time of the enactment of that law, circumstances, and conditions prevailing, were different from today. Thus, the onus is on the courts to find the true intention of the statute, not only from the language but also from the point of view of social conditions which gave rise to that law. Finding and applying true intentions of the legislature is the main task of the courts and courts should suppress the mischief existing in law and advance the Remedy. The language used in the statute may open to more than one interpretation called multiple interpretations. When the intention is Express, then only the literal meaning can serve the purpose. If the intention is Implied, then the courts follow some legal Principles or Rule to find true intention which should be commensurate with the public benefit. 

In layman’s terms, construction is the process of forming inferences about issues that go beyond the text’s direct exposition. The courts have to reach a conclusion after analyzing the exact meaning of the terms used in the language of the law in hand, known as legal exposition in other words. Construction or Interpretation both are used interchangeably. In the process of finding the true will of the legislature, both are used. The two terms overlap each other, it is slightly difficult to say where Interpretation leaves and Construction begins. 


Courts have to follow some principles/rules for interpretation/construction. The rules are both of primary and secondary nature. 

  • Primary rules of interpretation include Literal construction/interpretation. This basically, follows the rules of grammar, follows the literal meaning of legislature unless the language is ambiguous. When we have plain words which have only one interpretation, then no explanation is required. In this case, there is no room for Interpretation, follow the plain words even if it is absurd or mischievous. Under this interpretation, the text of the statute has to be given the ordinary and natural meaning. 
  • The consequence of such an interpretation is irrelevant as long as the meaning is clear and unambiguous. It is considered as the best rule of interpretation as there is no risk any deviating from the intention of the legislature when the words used by it are read as it is. 
  • Nothing should be added or taken away from the statute. But if some situation comes where legislature intended something which is omitted to express, this becomes an adequate ground to make such thing clear. Thus, reasonable correction can be done, provided the correction done, does not override the plain terms of a statute. Any correction which renders ineffective any part of the statute shall be rejected.    
  1. The Golden rule of interpretation says that if the natural or literal meaning gives rise to any kind of ambiguity or absurdity, then the court must ensure to accordingly modify the meaning only to the extent to give meaning and remove absurdity and not any further. 
  • The need for applying the golden rule arises whenever the literal meaning of the text of the law is uncertain or when the meaning which it intends to render is different from its plain grammatical meaning. 
  1. In 1584, Heydon’s case established the Mischief rule. Because the goal of this legislation is most essential when applying this rule, it is also known as the rule of purposive interpretation or construction. For an accurate and certain interpretation of all legislation in general, there are four things that must be observed. They are:
  • The common law in practice before the Act was passed.
  • The reason why the Act in question was brought into effect.
  • The remedy which the legislature seeks, determines, and appoints to heal the commonwealth’s disease?
  • The real reason for the treatment.
  1. In Reasonable Construction, if the literal meaning of legislation conflicts with the purpose for its passage, the law’s aim should be considered so that the statute’s real meaning may be correctly understood.
    • This criterion focuses primarily on the legislature’s objective in enacting legislation, as well as the reasonable, rather than the superficial, interpretation of the statute.
  • The concept of giving reasonable meaning is also upheld by the maxim ut res magis valeat quam pareat. 
  1. In Harmonious construction, when two or more provisions of the same legislation are incompatible, the court will endeavor to construe the provisions in such a way that both provisions are given effect while interpreting them harmoniously.
  • The legislature has to take care not to contradict itself, that is, two of the provisions of the same Act cannot be in conflict with each other under any circumstances. 
  • Section 96, 99, and 102 of the General Meeting Companies act 2013, these sections are interdependent. Thus, should be studied and understood in harmony. While studying and applying them, we use Integration and not Differentiation. The importance of a single clause in one part should not be overshadowed by the requirements of another section. 
  • If the contradiction of provisions can be eliminated, then use Harmonious construction to do so. If inconsistencies between sections cannot be resolved, the provisions with the most recent change or those adopted later in time will take precedence.


  1. Ejusdem Generis: words of a similar class.
  • The rule is that if two or more words have a similar property, then subsequent generic terms should be interpreted as referring to that class as a whole. Because the list was of land-based transportation means that when the legislation referred to trucks, tractors, motorbikes, and other vehicles, vehicles would not mean or include airplanes. 
  1. Expressio unius est exclusion alterius: that expressing one thing specifically implies the exclusion of the other things.
  • This implies that the items that aren’t on the list are believed to be exempt from the legislation. For instance, if legislation mentions lions and tigers, it only mentions lions and tigers and excludes leopards and other animals.
  1. Noscitur a sociis: knowing from associated words.
  • The meaning of a disputed word in legislation can be determined by referring to the word next to it. A law that required explosives to be carried into mines in a “case or canister”. As the intention of the parliament was to imply a case or container of a similar nature, one cannot say that the cotton bag could not have been included in the legislative definition.


Law is made by human beings who are legal experts. These people make law after considering many aspects and prevailing circumstances, but it is not within human powers to foresee every possibility of manifold situations which may arise in the future. As a result, it is up to the courts to determine the real meaning of the statute, not only from its wording but also from the context of the social conditions that gave rise to it. The essential job of the courts is to find and apply the real intentions of the legislator, and courts should repress any existing evil in the law and promote the Remedy. The respective Judges and Magistrates will decide the disagreement between the Parliament and the Government by interpreting the law of legislation. 


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