Meaning and Important Rules of Interpretation of Laws


“The essence of law lies in the spirit, not its letter, for the letter is significant only as being the external manifestation of the intention that underlies it.”


The interpretation of current statutes or laws is one of the judiciary’s most significant and important responsibilities. The legal frameworks, which include specific laws, statutes, The Constitution, and delegated legislations, strictly define the parameters within which the courts must operate when rendering justice in a legal issue. In a democratic nation like India, there are several laws and rules that make up the legal system.

The Legislature creates and draughts specific written statutes and laws while adhering to procedural parliamentary rules. By interpreting the guiding ideas in these laws, the courts render justice in a legal situation. The courts uphold written laws, and through rendering a decision about a legal dispute, the courts also administer justice.

The court should adhere to specific principles when reading statutes in order to avoid any incorrect interpretation of the laws. Therefore, the literal rule of interpretation of statutes, wherein the court reads the law’s wording as it is, is one of the most fundamental rules of interpretation. However, there might be some gaps in the law’s application because of which it is not easy to interpret the statutes’ plain language. If the courts apply the natural sense of the language employed in the statute, it can result in ambiguity and absurdity.

The definition of a statute in Maxwell’s “Interpretation of Statutes” is the legislative intent. It usually refers to the law that the legislature has passed. In general, rules and regulations of all kinds that authorise, enable, or forbid anything that is referred to as a statute are referred to as statutes, regardless of where they originated.

Although the term “statute” is not defined in the Indian Constitution, it is used to refer to the actions of the legislature and its basic authority. The classes into which statutes are split are as follows:

  1. Codification: When they codify the customary law on a particular topic, that is a codification.
  2. Declaration: When the existing law is simply clarified or explained, without any change to it.
  3. Remedial: This is when the common law is changed or a court creates a non-statutory law on a specific topic.
  4. Amendment: When a judge or the legislature makes a change to or modifies a statute, this is called an amendment.
  5. Consolidation: It is the process of integrating numerous prior statutes that deal with the same subject area, with or without amendments.
  6. Enabling: Eliminating a limitation or impairment is enabling.
  7. Disabling or Restraining: Restricting property alienation.
  8. Penal: When a fine or other punishment is imposed.

Meaning of Interpretation

By giving the words of the enactment their common and natural meaning, interpretation is the art of determining the true meaning of the legislation. The Latin word “interpretari,” which meaning to explain or understand, is the source of the English word “interpretation.” It is the process of figuring out what a statute’s words actually imply. Only when a statutory provision’s text is vague, unclear, or when two interpretations are possible, or where a different interpretation would defeat the purpose of the act, would the need for interpretation emerge. No need for interpretation would exist if the language was clear and unambiguous. Since the Court is not expected to interpret cases arbitrarily, certain principles have emerged as a result of the Courts’ ongoing work. These guidelines are often known as “rules of interpretation.”

The goal of interpretation is to make terms in statutes that may not have a clear meaning clearer. the practise of giving an act’s words their common, everyday meaning in order to determine their real meaning. It is the process of figuring out what a statute’s words actually imply. Since the court is not expected to interpret cases arbitrarily, a number of principles have emerged as a result of the courts’ ongoing work. These guidelines are often known as “rules of interpretation.” The method by which courts understand and apply laws is known as statutory interpretation. When a case includes a statute, interpretation is frequently required in some capacity. But frequently, the statute’s language contains some ambiguity or vagueness that the judge must clarify. The process of determining the true meaning of the words used in a statute is known as interpretation of statute.

In Seasford Court Estates Ltd. v. Asher, Lord Denning made a comment regarding the requirement for interpretation. He claimed that a regular person would not be able to foresee the additional facts that would emerge from the current case. All laws, when put into application to the circumstances, cannot be clear-cut. No government or court can create a perfect law that is clear and easy to understand for everyone to follow without facing criticism. Therefore, a law’s interpretation is crucial since what is written might have many different interpretations and outcomes. A judge should ask himself this: How would they have resolved it straight away if they had discovered this luck in the Act’s language themselves? Then, he must act as they would have. A judge can and should iron out the creases but not the fabric from which it is woven.

Only where a statutory provision’s text is unclear or ambiguous, when two interpretations are plausible, or when one reading would defeat the purpose of the act, would the need for interpretation emerge.

No need for interpretation would exist if the language was clear and unambiguous. In R.S. Nayak v. A.R. Antulay, a Constitution Bench of five Supreme Court judges of the Supreme Court ruled as follows: “… If the terms of the Statute are obvious and unambiguous, it is the plainest obligation of the Court to give respect to the natural interpretation of the words used in the provision. Only when there is uncertainty or the plain interpretation of the words employed in the statute would be counterproductive does the issue of construction come up.

Following the same logic, the Supreme Court stated in Grasim Industries Ltd. v. Collector of Customs, Bombay that “where the words are clear and there is no obscurity, there is no ambiguity, and the intention of the legislature is clearly conveyed, there is no scope for court to undertake the task of amending or altering the statutory provisions.” The goal of statutory interpretation is to aid judges in understanding legislative intent, not to restrict that meaning or keep it within parameters that the judge may think reasonable or practical.

General Rules of Interpretation

A court must interpret the statutes using the rules of interpretation where the legislature’s meaning is not clearly stated. Rules of interpretation can be divided into two categories:

  • Primary Rules

  1. The Primary Rule: Literal Interpretation
  2. The Mischief Rule: Heydon’s Rule
  3. The Golden Rule of Interpretation
  4. Rule of Harmonious Construction
  5. Rule of Ejusdem Generis
  • Other Rules

  1. Expressio Units Est Exclusio Alterius
  2. Contemporanea Expositio Est Optima Et Fortissima in Lege
  3. Noscitur a Sociis
  4. Strict and Liberal Construction

Literal Rule of Interpretation

The literal rule of interpretation has been termed as the primary rule of interpretation. As the name suggests, the literal rule of interpretation means that the judge literally interprets the statute. It can also be called the plain-meaning rule or the grammatical rule. In order to avoid ambiguity, the Act generally has “definitions” mentioned in it. If a particular meaning is given in the definition clause, the particular meaning shall be used and no other meaning. In the literal rule of interpretation, the courts are required to observe the ordinary and natural meaning of words, interpret the phrase or words as it is. Judges are not required to add words or modify meaning and they must observe the actual intent of the legislature. It is the safest rule of interpretation.

The literal rule of interpretation, in a way, is against the use of intelligence in understanding language. Judges are bound by the literal meaning of the words and cannot use their judicial minds to deviate from it. In the construction of laws, according to Lord Atkinson, “their words must be interpreted in their ordinary grammatical sense unless there is something in the context or in the object of the law in which they occur or in the circumstances in which they are used, to show that they were used in a special sense different from their ordinary grammatical sense.” The following conditions apply to the literal meaning:

  • A statute may allow for a special meaning for a term, which is normally found in the interpretation section.
  • If the statute does not provide otherwise, technical terms are given their ordinary technical meaning.
  • Addition, Rejection and Substitution of words is not permitted in literal construction.
  • Regard to consequences can be given only when the language used is capable of bearing more than one construction.
  • Redundancy to be avoided.
  • It’s important to remember that the meaning of words is determined by their context.

Advantages of Literal Rule Of Interpretation

  1. It enables the common man to understand the statue.
  2. Parliamentary supremacy is respected through this rule.
  3. It results in a quick decision as the meaning can be found in a dictionary or other sources.
  4. It provides no scope for judges to use their own opinions or prejudices.

Disadvantages of Literal Rule Of Interpretation

  1. It can create loopholes in the law.
  2. It can lead to injustice.
  3. It fails to recognize the complexities and limitations of the English Language.
  4. It can lead to absurd decisions that were not what the Parliament intended.
  5. It gives Judges little discretion to adapt the law to changing times.

Case Laws

  • In the case of Maqbool Hussain vs State of Bombay, the appellant, an Indian national, failed to register his possession of gold when he arrived at the airport. Gold was discovered during his search because it was in violation of the government’s notification and was seized in accordance with section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act. Later, he was also accused of violating Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947, Section 8 of the Act. According to the appellant, this trial violated Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution. No person shall be punished or prosecuted more than once for the same offence, according to this article. Double jeopardy is implied by this. The court ruled that neither a court nor any other judicial authority was authorised by the Seas Act. As a result, he wasn’t previously charged. His trial was therefore deemed to be fair.
  • In the case of Manmohan Das vs Bishan Das, the interpretation of section 3(1)(c) of the 1947 U.P. Control of Rent and Eviction Act was at stake. In this instance, a tenant was responsible for providing evidence if he made unapproved additions and alternations to the building that were perceived as materially altering the accommodations or threatening to reduce their value. According to the appellant, only the constitution can be covered, which lowers the property’s worth, and the word “or” should be interpreted as land. It was decided that the word “or” should be given the meaning that a reasonable individual would comprehend the grounds of the event are alternative and not coupled, in accordance with the norm of literal interpretation.
  • In the case of State of Kerala v. Mathai Verghese and others, a person was found with counterfeit “dollars,” and he was charged with possessing counterfeit cash under sections 120B, 498A, 498C, and 420 read with sections 511 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Before the court, the accused argued that a charge under sections 498A and 498B of the Indian Penal Code could only be brought against someone for forging Indian currency notes, not someone for forging international currency notes. The court ruled that a prefix cannot be used with the words bank note or currency notes. The person was declared responsible and charged.
  • The Regional Transport Authority moved a bus stop in the case Municipal board v. State transport authority, Rajasthan. Under section 64 A of the Motor Vehicles Act of 1939, an application may be moved within 30 days of receiving a regional transport authority’s order. On the grounds that the Act should be interpreted as meaning “30 days from the knowledge of the order,” the application was moved after the allotted 30 days. The application was denied as invalid by the Supreme Court on the grounds that a literal meaning must be used.
  • In the matter of Ram Avtar v. Assistant Sales Tax Officer, the appellant contended that pan leaf should be exempt from taxation under the terms of the Central Province and Berar Sales Tax Act since, according to its dictionary meaning, it falls under the category of a vegetable. The court, however, stated that the dictionary definition should only be used where there is ambiguity in the provision, and as there was none, the court rejected his argument.
  • The question before the Supreme Court in State of Goa v. Colfax Laboratories Ltd. case was whether ‘old spice’ and ‘blue stratus’ aftershave lotions were “medical preparations” within the meaning of the term occurring in Medicinal and Toilet Preparations (Excise Duties) Act, 1955. It was held that the process of shaving does not cause any kind of impairment of normal state of person. It does not in any manner interrupt or modify the performance of any vital functions of human body. Therefore, on plain interpretation of statutory provisions, an aftershave lotion cannot come within the ambit of “medical preparations” as defined u/s 2 (d) of the Act.

The Mischief Rule

In Heydon’s case in 1584, the Mischief Rule was developed. Because the goal of this statute is paramount for implementing this rule, it is known as the rule of purposive construction. Because Lord Poke imposed it in Heydon’s case in 1584, it is referred to as Heydon’s rule. Because the emphasis is on preventing trouble, it is known as the “mischief rule.”

In this case, Ottery, a religious college, gave a tenancy in a manor also called “Ottery” to a man (named in the case report simply as “Ware”) and his son, also referred to as Ware. The tenancy was established by copyhold, an ancient device for giving a parcel of a manor to a tenant, in return for agricultural services, which was something like a long-running lease with special privileges for each party. Ware and his son held their copyhold to have for their lives, subject to the will of the lord and the custom particular to that manor. The Wares’ copyhold was in a parcel also occupied by some tenants at will. Later, the college then leased the same parcel to another man, named Heydon, for a period of eighty years in return for rents equal to the traditional rent for the components of the parcel. Less than a year after the parcel had been leased to Heydon, Parliament enacted the Act of Dissolution. The statute had the effect of dissolving many religious colleges, including Ottery College, which lost its lands and rents to Henry VIII. However, a provision the Act kept in force, for a term of life, any grants made more than a year prior to the enactment of the statute. The Court of Exchequer found that the grant to the Wares was protected by the relevant provision of the Act of Dissolution, but that the lease to Heydon was void.

The ruling was based on an important discussion of the relationship of a statute to the pre-existing common law. The court concluded that the purpose of the statute was to cure a mischief resulting from a defect in the common law. Therefore, the court concluded, the remedy of the statute was limited to curing that defect. Judges are supposed to construe statutes by seeking the true intent of the makers of the Act, which is presumed to be pro bono publico, or intent for the public good. Lord Coke described the process through which the court must interpret legislation. He stated that, “For the sure and true interpretation of all statutes in general (be they penal or beneficial, restrictive or enlarging of the common law), four things are to be discerned and considered:

  1. What was the Common Law prior to the Act’s creation?
  2. What was the wrong and flaw that the Common Law did not cover?
  3. What treatment was decided upon and appointed by the Parliament to treat the Commonwealth’s illness?
  4. What is the remedy’s actual cause?

Then the office of all the judges is always to make such construction as shall suppress the mischief, and advance the remedy, and to suppress subtle inventions and evasions for continuance of the mischief, and to add force and life to the cure and remedy, according to the true intent of the makers of the Act, pro bono publico. A principle must have broader applications than the wrongdoing that gave rise to it in order to be considered valuable. These are intended to come as close to immortality as human organisations can. Where language has several meanings, the Mischief Rule applies. It is the responsibility of the Court to draught a statute in a way that will put an end to the wrongdoing and progress the remedy.

Advantages of Mischief Rule

  • It focuses on Parliaments intention.
  • Judges are allowed to apply their mind.
  • It allows judges to consider current updates.
  • It helps in avoiding absurdness.
  • It utilizes the help of external aids to interpretation.

Disadvantages of Mischief Rule

  • Court may do an error in understanding parliament’s intention.
  • There’s a possibility of misuse of power.
  • It makes law uncertain.
  • It is said to be undemocratic.
  • It infringes separation of power.
  • While judges can bring their own vies and sense of morality, they can also bring person prejudices and bias.

Case Laws

  • Prostitutes were soliciting in the streets of London in the Smith v. Huges case, and it was causing a major problem there. This was making it very difficult to keep law and order. The Street Offenses Act, 1959 was passed to address this issue. The prostitutes began soliciting from windows and balconies after this act was passed. Additionally, charges were brought under section 1(1) of the aforementioned Act against the prostitutes who continued to solicit on the streets and on balconies. However, the prostitutes begged that they had not been approached on the streets. The court ruled that even if they weren’t soliciting on the streets, the mischief rule still needed to be enforced to stop prostitutes from doing so. They were ordered to investigate into this matter. Applying this logic, the court determined that the charge sheet was accurate since the windows and balconies were considered to be an extension of the phrase “street.”
  • In Pyare Lal v. Ram Chandra, the accused was charged with selling sweetened supari that had been sweetened with an artificial sweetener. He was charged with violating the Food Adulteration Act. Pyare Lal asserted that supari is not a food item. According to the court, the dictionary definition is not always accurate, so the mischief rule must be used and the interpretation that best serves the remedy must be taken into account. The court concluded that the term “food” is one that can be consumed orally and by mouth. His prosecution was deemed to be lawful as a result.
  • The following were the issues in the case of Kanwar Singh v. Delhi Administration: Section 418 of the Delhi Corporation Act of 1902 gave the corporation the right to round up livestock grazing on public land. The Kanwar Singh livestock were picked up by the MCD. The corporation was given permission to gather the abandoned livestock per the statute’s language. Kanwar Singh argued that the term “abandoned” refers to a loss of possession and that because the animals that were rounded up belonged to him, they were not abandoned. According to the court, the mischief rule had to be followed, and the term “abandoned” had to be understood to mean “set loose” or “left unattended,” with even a brief loss of possession qualifying.
  • The respondent in the case of Regional Provident Fund Commissioner v. Sri Krishna Manufacturing Company was in charge of a factory with four manufacturing-oriented units. One of these four units was a paddy mill, and the other three were copper sheet units, wheat mills, and saw mills. There were more than 50 staff there. The Employees Provident Fund Act, 1952 was implemented by the RPFC, who then instructed the factory to provide the benefits to the workers. The concerned party divided the entire plant into four distinct units where the employee count was below 50, and he claimed the laws did not apply to him because there were more than 50 people in each unit. The application of PFA was upheld because the court determined that the mischief rule had to be used and that all four units had to be treated as one industry.
  • In Bengal Immunity Co. v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court used the mischief rule to interpret Article 286 of the Indian Constitution. Chief Justice S.R. Das said, “It was to cure this mischief of multiple taxation and to preserve the free flow of interstate trade or commerce in the Union of India. He then referred to the state of law prevailing in the province prior to the constitution as well as the chaos and confusion that was brought about in inter-state trade and commerce by indiscriminate exercise of taxing powers by the different Provincial Legislatures founded on the theory of territorial nexus.

Golden Rule of Interpretation

Generally, the court should follow the real meaning of the term or law specified in the statute, but when the natural or ordinary meaning of such terms included in a statute leads to injustice, evasion, or other wrongdoing, the court must adjust the meaning of those terms to the point where it does not cause unfairness to anybody.

When a court is presented with many interpretations, the court must consider the meaning that comes closest to the genuine intent of the legislature. It is a middle ground between the mischief rule and the plain meaning (or literal) rule. It gives the terms of a legislation their clear, common meaning, much like the plain meaning rule does. However, the judge may deviate from this interpretation when doing so could produce an unreasonable outcome that is unlikely to be the legislature’s intended outcome. In the instance of homographs, when a word may have more than one meaning, the judge may select the desired interpretation; if the term has only one meaning but applying it will result in an unfavourable ruling, the judge may apply a completely other interpretation.

Applicability and usage of golden rule of interpretation

If two interpretations are possible, it is best to avoid the narrower or less futile reading since it does not take into account the goal of the legislation, as argued in the case of Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries Ltd. by Viscount Simon L.C. We should acknowledge the more audacious form of the construction, which is the Parliament’s aim to pass laws only for the purpose of making the outcome effective. Section 154 of the Companies Act of 1929 deals with the transfer of an undertaking, which includes property, obligations, liabilities, and rights, from the old company to a new company.

An issue was brought up in the Luke v. R.R.C. case regarding the transfer of an existing service contract between the former business and the individual. The individual should get the notice of amalgamation, according to the House of Lords’ ruling. The golden rule of interpretation has been applied in this situation, where if the words’ initial meaning were taken into account, no employee permission would be required during merger, but this would be unfair. However, in this instance, the court diverged from the text of the law and held that the transferor corporation is responsible for informing the employees of the amalgamation.

In the case of Nyadar Singh v. Union of India, the court interpreted Rule 11(VI) of the Central Services (Classification, Appeal and Control) Rules, 1956 using the Golden Rule because the legislature used a restricted construction while writing the rule. This clause levies a fine if the employee’s grade, post, level of service, or pay scale is reduced in any way. The Supreme Court ruled that if someone is assigned to a larger job or pay grade, they cannot be demoted to a lower pay grade or post. As a result, the Court read this provision broadly. According to Maxwell, the Golden Rule has a considerable impact on the creation of laws that determine consequences as well as the creation of specific measures that eliminate unfairness, inconvenience, and evasion.

The case of Free Lanka Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Panasinghe, where it was determined that if a prisoner escapes from prison due to a fire accident, he did not commit a felony under the Statute because this act was committed by him not with the intention of getting free but to save his life, can be cited to explain the applicability of the Golden Rule. Similar to this, an act would not be classified as illegal in nature if it was carried out for specific justifiable reasons.

The Golden Construction of Statutes has been used by the Indian Supreme Court and High Court in a number of decisions, as was previously mentioned. The literal meaning of the law is considered initially if it is clear and rational, but if there is any ambiguity or absurdity, the court’s interpretation will play a substantial role. As a result, there is some confusion between the Golden Rule and the Literal Rule. However, if there is a chance that the terminology in the act could have more than one meaning, the court should add, substitute, or reject any phrase so that the legislative intent is made clear.

The interpretation of provisions like “Section 23 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951” and “Section 3A of the U.P. Sales Tax Act, 1948,” which were dealt with in Narendra Kiadivalapa v. Manikrao Patil and Annapurna Biscuit Manufacturing Co. v. Commissioner of Sales Tax, U.P., respectively, were some of the landmark Indian cases in which the Golden Rule was used. As a result, the courts must adhere to a restricted and broad approach while applying the Golden Rule of Interpretation in cases involving India and those involving other jurisdictions.

Advantages of Golden Rule of Interpretation

  • It gives the courts power to avoid absurdity which aims to the extent of providing justice
  • It aims to avoid speedy amending legislation in parliament.
  • It helps to close the loopholes.
  • It provides a check on the strictness of the literal rule.
  • It respects the laws and therefore the statutes that are formed by the parliament by applying the literal rule, the golden rule is to be applied only there are an absurdity and inconsistencies created by The Literal Rule of Interpretation.

Disadvantages of Golden Rule of Interpretation

  • A statute can be amended by the judges to override the reading.
  • It is unpredictable, and there are no rules for when and when to use the golden rule.
  • Judges can’t undo past laws, and they can’t even amend the present ones.
  • The capacity of the Golden Rule is severely limited since the literal rule is to be applied first only in instances when the literal rule generates an absurdity.
  • There is no clear guideline on when the Golden Rule should be implemented; each court may have its unique viewpoint; what appears silly to one judge may not appear absurd to another.
  • It only authorises the judge to change the statute’s meaning in very specific circumstances.

Case Laws

  • There was a dispute regarding the issuance of the notice under section 99 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, with reference to corrupt activities involved in the election in the case of Tirath Singh v. Bachittar Singh. According to the rule, the notice must be sent simultaneously to everyone who has signed the election petition as a party and everyone who has not. Tirath Singh argued that he had not received such a notice under the aforementioned rule. Only those who weren’t parties to the election petition received the notices. On this specific ground, it was contested that this was invalid. According to the court, the information is intended to be delivered, and even if it is given twice, it stays the same. Since the petition’s parties already have notice of the petition, section 99 should be interpreted in accordance with the maxim that notice is only necessary for non-parties.
  • A trucking firm that was transporting a package of apples was contested and charged in the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v. Azad Bharat Financial Company. The transporting company’s truck was seized because the package included opium in addition to the apples. At the same time, the transport invoice displayed only listed apples. According to Section 11 of the Opium Act of 1878, all vehicles used to transport illegal goods must be seized, as well as the goods themselves. The transport company seized it, claiming they were not aware that opium was also carried in the truck with the apples. The court ruled that even while section 11 of the aforementioned statute said that the car would be seized, adopting the literal rule of interpretation to this clause would result in unfairness and injustice, and as a result, this reading should be avoided. It is correct to read “may be confiscated” instead of “must be confiscated.”
  • In the case of State of Punjab v. Quiser Jehan Begum, it was stipulated that an appeal for the publication of the award had to be submitted within six months following the announcement of the compensation under section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act of 1844. The award was given in Quiser Jehan’s honour. After six months, she received this information from her attorney. The appeal was submitted after the allotted six months had passed. The lower courts dismissed the appeal. The court decided that the six-month period should start counting from the moment Quiser Jehan acquired the knowledge because the alternative interpretation would have been nonsensical. By using the “golden rule,” the court permitted the appeal.
  • The Supreme Court stated in RBI v. Peerless General Finance and Investment Co. Ltd that a statute’s scheme, sections, clauses, phrases, and words may take on colour and appear different when viewed in the context of its enactment, with the glasses of the statute makers provided by such context, as opposed to when the statute is viewed without the glasses provided by the context. With these lenses on, we must examine the Act as a whole to determine what each section, clause, phrase, and word is intended to express and how it fits into the overall framework of the Act.

Rule of Harmonious Construction

The rule of harmonic construction must be followed when there is a dispute between two or more statutes or two or more sections of a legislation. The rule is based on the straightforward idea that every statute has a legal purpose and intent and should be viewed as a whole. It is best to interpret the law in a way that is consistent with all of its clauses. The court’s ruling regarding the clause shall have precedence in the event that it is difficult to harmonise both requirements. The language employed in the statute’s provision explains the legislature’s objective. The legislature could not have attempted to contradict itself, which is the fundamental tenet of harmonious construction in this case. The principle of harmonious construction is frequently used while interpreting the Constitution.

Given that both clauses were created by the legislature and given equal legal standing, it can be assumed that if the legislature intended to grant something, it would not have planned to take it away with the other. A provision of a single act cannot render another provision of the same act ineffective. The legislature cannot, therefore, be expected to contradict itself under any circumstances.

The key elements of this principle are that:

  • The courts must interpret potentially conflicting clauses in a way that harmonises them rather than allowing them to clash directly.
  • Unless the court is unable to reconcile their disparities despite best efforts, the provision of one section cannot be used to invalidate the provision of another.
  • When there are conflicting provisions that cannot entirely be reconciled, the courts must interpret them in a way that gives both provisions as much weight as feasible.
  • Additionally, courts must remember that harmonic structure does not convert one provision to a pointless number or a dead lumbar.
  • No statutory provision is destroyed or made loose by harmonisation.

Case Laws

  • The State of Uttar Pradesh proposed to acquire sugar businesses under the U.P. Sugar Undertakings (Acquisition) Act, 1971, in the case of Ishwari Khaitan Sugar Mills v. State of Uttar Pradesh. This was contested on the grounds that the union had claimed control of certain sugar businesses under the 1951 Industries (Development and Regulation) Act. Therefore, the state lacked the authority to seize or requisition any property that was in the union’s control. According to the Supreme Court, the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act of 1951 did not possess the authority of acquisition. Under Entry 42 List III, the state was given its own authority.
  • The Constitution’s Article 19(1)(a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression. The Parliamentary Privilege, which is outlined in Article 194(3), allows for the punishment of the Parliament for its disobedience. In the S.M. Sharma v. Krishna Sinha case, a newspaper editor published the exact word-for-word transcript of the Parliament’s proceedings, including the passages that were redacted. He received a summons for violating parliamentary privilege. He argued that his freedom of speech and expression was a fundamental right. The court determined that because article 19(1)(a) itself refers to “reasonable freedom,” freedom of speech and expression is only applicable to parts of the record that have not been deleted.
  • Two Representation of People Act, 1951 sections that appeared to be at odds with one another were brought up in Raj Krishna v. Binod. In accordance with Section 33 (2), a Government Servant may propose or second a candidate for office, however Section 123(8) states that the only way a Government Servant may support a candidate is by casting a ballot. The Supreme Court ruled that a Government Servant was permitted to nominate or second a candidate for election to the State Legislative Assembly and noted that both of these laws should be read coherently. This balance can only be reached if Section 123(8) is read to grant the government employee the right to vote as well as the ability to nominate or support a candidate while prohibiting him from offering the candidate any other kind of assistance.

Rule of Ejusdem Generis

The Latin phrase Ejusdem Generis, which is pronounced “eh-youse-dem generous,” means “of the same type.” In other terms, “Ejusdem Generis” refers to words that belong to the same class. The norm is that any generic terms that follow should be understood as referring broadly to that class when specific words have a common characteristic (i.e., of a class); no larger construction should be provided.

A statute will typically be read in a way that is internally consistent. A certain section of the law cannot be separated from the rest of it. When a group of words must be given meaning because one word in the group is ambiguous or fundamentally confusing, the Ejusdem Generis rule is used to solve the problem.

Ordinarily, unless the context specifies otherwise, general terms should be given their ordinary meaning like all other words. However, a generic term may be assigned a limited meaning within the same category when it is followed by particular words of that category. Because the legislator expressed its goal by employing specific words from a particular genus, the general term derives its meaning from the previous specific expressions.

Applying the principle of Ejusdem Generis requires significant care because it suggests changing the meaning of words from their ordinary meaning in order to reflect a purported legislative aim. The fundamental principle that states that laws must be interpreted to carry out their intended purpose must be applied to this rule. The general terms may be assumed to be restricted to that genus if the particular words are all of the same genus as required by the criterion.

The Supreme Court has explored and clarified the meaning of Ejusdem Generis as a norm of interpretation of statutes in our legal system in Maharashtra University of Health and others v. Satchikitsa Prasarak Mandal & Others. When examining the doctrine, the Supreme Court determined that the phrase Ejusdem Generis, which translates as “of the same kind or nature,” is a constructional principle. This means that when general words are placed between restricted words in a statutory text, the meaning of the general words is assumed to be constrained by the meaning of the restricted words. The Supreme Court also ruled that the Ejusdem Generis principle is a subset of the “Noscitur a sociis” principle, which is Latin for “it is known by the company it maintains” and refers to the idea that a word’s intended meaning is dependent on the context in which it is used.

According to the Latin proverb Noscitur a Sociis, a legislative term is understood in the context of its connected words. Society is what the Latin word “sociis” signifies. Therefore, it is impossible to read broad words alone when they are paired with specialised words. Their context will determine both their hue and their content. The Ejusdem Generis principle, like all other linguistic construction canons, only applies in the absence of a conflicting intention.

Expressio Units Est Exclusio Alterius

The adage is used to determine the legislature’s intentions. If the Statute’s language is clear and its intent is understood, then the rule cannot be applied. According to the norm, the specific mention of one thing entails its exclusion from another.

In addition, since many things are put into statutes ex abundanti cautela, it is not to be assumed that anything not specifically included is excluded from the protection of the statute for that reason alone. Instead, general words in statutes must be given a general interpretation unless there is a basis in the statute for limiting and restraining their meaning by reasonable construction.

This maxim requires close attention to the construction process. Accidents can happen, leading to the “expression” not being full. Similar to the previous example, the “exclusion” is frequently the consequence of mistake or accident because it never occurred to the draughtsman that the item that was supposed to be excluded needs to be specifically mentioned. When using the maxim results in unfairness or inconsistency, it should not be used.

Contemporanea Expositio Est Optima Et Fortissima in Lege

According to the maxim, a contemporaneous exposition of law is the strongest and best. On the basis of the maxim, terms used in a statute that have changed their meaning through time will be interpreted to mean the same thing they did at the time the statute was passed. Old laws should be read as they would have been at the time they were passed, and when their meaning is in doubt, prior usage and interpretation by those who have an interest in or duty to enforce the law, as well as the legal profession of the time, are presumed to be accurate indications of their meaning.

However, if the statute appears to be only interpretable, the fact that a wrong meaning had been given to it for many years will be irrelevant, and the courts will give the correct meaning unless it might affect the title to property or if regular transactions have been made based on the incorrect interpretation.

Noscitur a Sociis

The phrase “It is known by its colleagues” is known as “Noscitur a Sociis.” In other words, the context or associative terms around a word should reveal its meaning. Placing emphasis on one word apart from its predecessors and successors is not a sound rule for interpreting statutes. A statutory provision requires that words be read in conjunction with one another. Understanding the meaning of words in a law regulation requires applying the pristine principle based on the maxim “noscitur a socitis” (K. Bhagirathi G. Shenoy v. K.P. Ballakuraya). According to the rule, when two or more words with similar meaning potential are combined, they are understood in their cognate sense. The current rule of construction is only applicable in situations when it is unclear if the legislature intended to pair terms with different meanings.

The same statute uses the same terms with the same meaning. The exception to this rule are as follows:

  1. When that principle was not included in the context.
  2. If a good enough justification can be given, it is acceptable to interpret a word differently in one part of an Act than it does in another.
  3. When doing so would be unfair or foolish.
  4. Where a variety of situations are handled.
  5. Where a different context for the terms is employed. The ejusdem generis doctrine and this rule are sometimes confused. But there is a fine line, as was highlighted in the State of Bombay v. Hospital Mazdoor Sabha

Strict and Liberal Construction

According to Wiberforce on Statute Law, “liberal construction” means that “everything is to be done in advancement of the remedy that can be done consistently with any construction of the statute,” while “strict construction” is defined as “Acts, are not to be regarded as including anything which is not within their letter as well as their spirit, which is not clearly and intelligibly described in the very words of the statute, as well as manifestly intended.” Beneficial building is typically recommended to squelch the problem and advance the cure.

In the case at hand, a court will apply the rule that results in a decision that meets its sense of fairness. Although the literal rule is the one that is most frequently mentioned in explicit terms, the Courts regard all three—the literal rule, the golden rule, and the mischief rule—as legitimate and make reference to them as necessary without giving any explanation as to why one should be preferred over the others. A court may occasionally discuss all three strategies. The “literal rule” is occasionally explicitly preferred over the “mischief rule” in these situations. It occasionally favours the “mischief rule” above the “literal rule,” though it never says it out loud.


Each country has its own judicial system, which serves to provide justice for everybody. The court seeks to interpret the law in a way that ensures justice for all citizens. The idea of canons of interpretation was explained in order to secure justice for everybody. These rules were developed in order to ascertain the legislature’s true intent. It is not always the case that the language used in a statute is clear, plain, and unambiguous, hence in these situations it is crucial for courts to establish a clear and explicit interpretation of the terms or phrases used by the legislature while also clearing up any ambiguities that may have existed. Therefore, it is crucial to follow all of the article’s rules in order to provide justice.


Author: Arryan Mohanty,
Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur/Student

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