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Governmental power has been divided into three wings namely the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Interpretation of statutes 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. Statutory interpretation is the process by which courts interpret and apply legislation.
Statute generally means the law or the Act of the legislature authority. The general rule of the interpretation is that statutes must prima facie be given this ordinary meaning. If the words are clear, free from ambiguity there is no need to refer to other means of interpretation. But if the words are vague and ambiguous then internal aid may be sought for interpretation. The term interpretation means “To give meaning to”. Some amount of interpretation is always necessary when a case involves a statute. Sometimes the words of a statute have a plain and straightforward meaning. But in many cases, there is some ambiguity or vagueness in the words of the statute that must be resolved by the judge. To find the meanings of statutes, judges use various tools and methods of statutory interpretation, including traditional canons of statutory interpretation, legislative history, and purpose. In common law jurisdictions, the judiciary may apply rules of statutory interpretation to legislation enacted by the legislature or to delegated legislation such as administrative agency regulations.
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 adage “A Verbis legis non est recedendum” means that you must not vary the words of the statute while interpreting. It is notable that the general methods of statutory interpretation are not themselves regulated by Parliament, but have been developed by the judges. The Interpretation Act 1978, which from its title might seem to fulfill such a function, has the comparatively no ambitious aim of providing certain standard definitions of common provisions, and thereby enables statutes to be drafted more briefly than otherwise would be the case. Modern statutes commonly include "definition sections" in which the meaning of words and phrases found in the statute are explained, either comprehensively (X "means" ABC) or partially (X "includes" ABC).
Finally, it can be said that an Act, statutes or Code is enacted in brief. Its language is not very detail. While applying the principles laid down in the Act, statute or Code the authority very often finds it difficult to be sure if particular section, sub-section or clause applies to the problem in hand or not. The authority, however, must ensure whether the alleged principle shall apply or not. This process of applying, the principle laid down in the Act is termed as interpretation. For example, if a person is alleged to have committed theft one has to see what are the ingredients of the offence of „theft‟ as defined in Section 378 of the Penal Code, and whether the allegated act falls squarely within the definition of theft or not. If it does, it is a case of theft otherwise not.1
H.N.Tewari, Legal Research Methodology (Faridabad: Allahabad Law Agency, 1997), p.90.
2. The judiciary might interpret the statute on the basis of some established principles. PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES Necessity of interpretation of statute arises when a case involves a statute. (Dhaka: New Warsi Book Corporation.276-82. 2nd ed. there is some ambiguity or vagueness in the words of the statute that must be determined by the judge. 3 . The facts of principles can be stated as like below: One of the functions of the judiciary is to interpret and analyze the provisions of statutes in reaching a decision or providing clarification of true meaning of the enactment. pp.2 2 M. which are called principles of interpretation of statutes. 2008). Somokalin Antojartik Ain (Contemporary International Law). The judges might have to fill the gaps in statute on the footing that the legislature might be presumed to cover such gaps.Shah Alam. The provisions of a statute might have a plain and straightforward meaning. These principles are also frequently applied in interpretation of treaties concluded under international law. But in most cases. and methods.
Legislative intent is determined by examining secondary sources. The rule was first laid out in a 16th-century ruling of the Exchequer Court. These rules of construction methods are depicted below: The Mischief Rule The Mischief Rule is of narrower application than the golden rule or the literal rule. in that it can only be used to interpret a statute and. First. there is said to be the "purpose" approach or "mischief rule". unless a statute explicitly defines some of its terms otherwise. The Literal Rule The Plain meaning rule. only when the statute was passed to remedy a defect in the common law. The main aim of the rule is to determine the "mischief and defect" that the statute in question has set out to remedy. it revealed that the Supreme Court held that if two interpretations are possible of the same statute. strictly speaking. The plain meaning rule is the mechanism that underlines textualism and. also known as the literal rule. legislatures 4 . law review articles and corresponding statutes. various methods of statutory construction have fallen in and out of favor. Over time. is one of three rules of statutory construction traditionally applied by English courts. From the case of “Santi swarup Sarkar v pradeep kumar sarkar”. The application of this rule gives the judge more discretion than the literal and the golden rule as it allows him to effectively decide on Parliament's intent.3. The plain meaning rule dictates that statutes are to be interpreted using the ordinary meaning of the language of the statute. then there is said to be the "literal" approach or "plain meaning rule”. to a certain extent. and what ruling would effectively implement this remedy. The notion has prevailed that three different rules or approaches may be employed in ascertaining the meaning of a statute. and finally there is the "golden rule”. the one which validates the statute must be preferred. KINDS OF I NTERPRETATION OF STATUTES The object of interpretation of statutes is to determine the intention of the legislature conveyed expressly or impliedly in the language used. treatises. the law is to be read word for word and should not divert from its ordinary meaning. originalism. such as committee reports. In other words. To avoid ambiguity. It can be argued that this undermines Parliament's supremacy and is undemocratic as it takes law-making decisions away from the legislature.
B. . The term "golden rule" seems to have originated in an 1854 court ruling. The literal rule is what the law says instead of what the law was intended to say. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries. The golden rule allows a judge to depart from a word's normal meaning in order to avoid an absurd result. the Golden rule. which explicitly define the most important terms used in that statute. 385 Viscount Simon.C. Hart. in Mattison v. absent a contrary definition within the statute. or on that of a word found within a definition itself. ordinary and literal meaning."4 3 4 Chief Justice Jervis. 1014. 14 C.3 and implies a degree of enthusiasm for this particular rule of construction over alternative rules that have not been shared by all subsequent judges. at p. The Golden Rule In law. at p. even though the intention of the legislator may have been different or the result is harsh or undesirable. The plain meaning rule attempts to guide courts faced with litigation that turns on the meaning of a term not defined by the statute. or British rule. 357. For example. words must be given their plain. one judge made a point of including this note in a 1940 decision: "The golden rule is that the words of a statute must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning. 1022 5 . If the words are clear. in Nokes v. is a form of statutory construction traditionally applied by English courts. they must be applied.often include "definitions" sections within a statute. According to the literal rule.  A.
it cannot be modified gradually from day to day. When once the law has been codified. In some cases the whole of a statute or rule is not replaced but instead a part of it may be amended. The maker of law incorporates in the enactment both the pre-existing statutory provisions and the common law relating to the subject. making minor amendments and improvements. Codifying Statute A codifying statute is a statute which states exhaustively the whole of the law upon a particular subject. Once the principal statute is amended the amending statute no longer has any force. The existing statute or rule is “revoked” from the date the new statute or rules comes into force. CONSOLIDATING AND CODIFYING STATUTE Amending or Repealed Statutes New statutes and rules sometimes replace existing statutes and rules. as the changing circumstances of the community. Consolidating statutes can be applied any of the three forms: “without changes”. AMENDING. To conclude. and embodies them in a single Act of parliament. the difference between a consolidating and codifying statutes are that the aim of a consolidating statute is to enact a complete code on a particular subject by not only compilation but also by addition but a codifying statute states exhaustively the whole of the law upon a particular subject. “with minor changes”. and “with amendment”. orderly and authoritative rules on a particular subject. The purpose of a codifying statute is to present uniform. The old statute or rule is repealed and no longer has any force. A consolidating statute is not simply a compilation of different earlier statutes.4. but enacted with co-ordination and for the changing present social circumstances. An amending statute or rule follows the same approval path as new statute but its objective is to amend part of a principal statute rather than replace it. The object of a consolidating statute is to present entire body of different statutory laws on a particular subject in a complete form. Consolidating Statute A Consolidating statute is a statute which collects the statutory provisions relating to a particular topic. 6 .
the presumption is that the parliament is intended to alter the existing law. Strict and Favorable Construction Taxing enactment should be strictly construed and the right to tax should be clearly established. RULES OF INTERPRETATION In enactment of a consolidating Act. Just because certain terms of a non. Before taxing any individual must be clearly establish that the person to be taxed falls within the purview of the charging section by clear words. However. If the provision can be interpreted in two ways. it does not mean that the non-repealed statute and general laws are affected by the consolidating statute. If a person cannot be brought within the four corners of the law. presumptions or equity. Equitable construction should not be taken into account. existing laws. For the purpose of enactment of a consolidating Act it is in order to refer to previous laws. 7 . then the same meaning cannot be sustained. Several rules of interpretation are provided below: Charging Section The section that charges the tax must have clear words. then the one favoring the assessee must be taken into consideration. Prospective Operation The cardinal principle of tax laws is that the law to be applied to assessee is the law in force in the assessment year unless otherwise provided expressly or by necessary implication. There is no room for searching the intentions. judicial decisions.repealed statute are used in the consolidating statute. Courts should not strain words and find unnatural meaning to fill loopholes. In case of inconsistency between the provisions of a consolidating Act. it is pertinent to refer to different previous enactments with reference to dates of enactment in chronological order. The further presumption is that the words used in the consolidating act bear the same meaning as that of the enactment for which consolidation is made. common law etc.5. if the words have origin in different legislations. There is no implication of the law. No retrospective effect to fiscal statute is possible unless the language of the language of the statute is very clear and plain. he is free from tax liability.
8 . Substance of Matter The tax authorities must consider the legal aspect of a particular transaction for levy of tax. Machinery Provision Machinery provision means the procedure foe calculation and collection of tax. Court fee Act If the court fee is high. parlance special in commercial and trade circles must be considered.Meaning in Common Parlance In finding out the meaning of a taxing statute. no presumption exists. In interpreting the court fee Act. The person who claims an exemption has to establish it. In “Atlas Cycles Industries Ltd v State of Haryana”. then it affects the right of the aggrieved person to seek remedy. the Supreme Court held that notification imposing a tax cannot be deemed to be extended to new areas in the municipality. the benefit of doubt always goes to the assessee. This is called „substance of the matter‟. the meaning in common usage. the Supreme Court held that statute imposing a tax should be construed in the way which they are understood in ordinary language in the area in area in which the law is the force. No Presumption as to Tax As regards to imposition of tax. No Spirit of Law A person is no liable to tax on the spirit of law or logic or reason. It cannot be drawn by implication or analogical extensions. The presumption for equality and against partiality of taxation exists. The tax can be levied only by an Act of the parliament. Imposition of Tax by Authority of Law The taxes and assessment can only be imposed by an authority established under a statute. vs Commissioner of Sales Tax”. In “Annapurna Biscuit Manufacturing Co.
Double taxation In interpreting a fiscal statute. Delayed payment of tax Interest is levied by tax authorities on delayed payment of tax. In short the general rule of construction is that in case of doubt. it is decided in favor of the tax payer even if such a decision is detrimental to the government. If provision exists. then the interpretation must be in favor of single taxation. such delayed payment is valid. 9 . if one meaning gives rise to double taxation and other meaning gives rise to single taxation.
g. 1860. It is a preparatory statement that contains the recitals showing the reason for enactment of the Act.6. So it cannot be legally used to restrict the plain meaning of the words in an enactment. 10 . The main objective and purpose of the Act are found in the Preamble of the Statute. its preamble. E. Long title: The heading of the statute is the long title and the general purpose is described in it. 1954. Marginal 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. If the language of the Act is clear the preamble must be ignored. Sometimes a single section might have a preamble. Short Title: The short title of the Act is purely for reference only. INTERNAL AID TO I NTERPRETATION OF STATUTES If the words of a statute are ambiguous then the context must be taken into consideration. Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. They must not be considered for not being part of the statute. The context includes other provisions of the statute. headings can be referred. The preamble is an intrinsic aid in the interpretation of an ambiguous act. The intention behind the meaning of the words and the circumstances under which they are framed must be considered: Title Title is not part of enactment. Headings A group of Sections are given under a heading which act as their preamble.g. The Indian Penal Code. If there is ambiguity in the words of a statute. E. Preamble The Act starts with a preamble and is generally small. The short title is merely for convenience. the existing state of law and other legal provisions. But if there is any ambiguity they may be referred as an internal aid to the construction. the long title reads as follows “An Act to make provisions for the prevention of adulteration of food”.
When the act itself provides a dictionary for the words used. Punctuation cannot control.Proviso A proviso merely carves out something from the section itself. Gender Words‟ using the masculine gender is deemed to include females too. The word „and‟ can be read as „or‟ and „or‟ can be read as „and‟. The expression in the schedule cannot override the provisions of the express enactment. it becomes binding on the courts. vary or modify the plain and simple meaning of the language of the statute. Exceptions and savings clause To exempt certain clauses from the preview of the main provisions. Schedules Schedules form part of a statute. A proviso is a subsidiary to the main section and has to be construed in the light of the section itself. 11 . The court is not entitled to add words to a proviso with a view to enlarge the scope. The saving clause is also added in cases of repeal and re-enactment of a statute. Interpretation clause The legislature can lay down legal definitions of its own language. Punctuation Punctuation is disregarded in the construction of a statute. Conjunctive and Disjunctive words The word “and” is conjunctive and the word “or” is disjunctive. The things which are not exempted fall within the purview of the main enactment. They are at the end and contain minute details for working out the provisions of the express enactment. if such definitions are embodied in the statute itself. These words are often interchangeable. and exception clause is provided. the court must first look into that dictionary for interpretation.
12 . Internal aid to construction is important for interpretation. Illustrations Illustrations in enactment provided by the legislature are valuable aids in the understanding the real scope.Explanations Explanations are given at the end of each section and it is part and parcel of the enactment. Meaning of the words The definition of the words given must be construed in the popular sense.
Objects and Reason The statements and object cannot be used as an aid to construction. Text books may also be refereed to for assistance in finding out the true construction of a statute. EXTERNAL AID TO INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES Other than the internal aid to interpretation which are part of a statute itself there are other aids which are not part of the statute.7. 13 . International Conventions International conventions are generally not resorted to for the purpose of interpretation. bills. Historical Settings The surrounding circumstances and situations which led to the passing of the Act can be considered for the purpose of construing a statute. they can be looked at for the purpose of construction. objects and reasons. text books. In such cases the court may make use of standard authors and well known authoritative dictionaries. Objects and reasons of a statute is to be looked into as an extrinsic aid to find out the legislative intent. These are known as external aid to interpretation. Only if the above documents are expressly referred to in the statute. dictionaries etc. Text books and Dictionaries The use of dictionaries is limited to circumstances where the judges and Counsels use different words. but it helps as an external aid for the purpose of resolving ambiguities in the language. Government publications They are Reports of commissioner or committee and the other documents. debates. only when the language is obscure or ambiguous. Recourse to external aid is justified only to well-recognized limits. The court can consider recourse outside the Act such as historical settings. The statements of object and reason are not only admissible as an aid to construction of a statute.
The court may refer historical facts if it is necessary to understand the subject matter. foreign decisions which include policy of the legislature and government policy. purpose of the Act conventions and practices. Previous English law It is not legal and correct to apply decisions of English acts to the construction of an Indian statute. bills can be referred. Debate and Proceedings of the Legislature A speech made in the course of a debate on a bill could be referred to find out the intent of the speaker. If definition is not given. Select Committee Report To ascertain the legislative intent of a doubtful meaning of a statute. Extemporaneous Exposition In interpreting old statutes. popular meaning must be construed. 14 . then the word is interpreted according to the judicial meaning. History of Legislation The history of legislation usually denotes the course of events which give rise to enactments. report of legislative committee of the proposed law can be referred. Others external aids include interpretation by the executive.Bill Only when the language is ambiguous. Judicial Interpretation of Words It is an accepted principle of law that if a word has received clear judicial interpretation. Speeches made in the parliament can also be referred. the construction by the judges who lived at the time of the enactment could be referred as 9it is best to understand the intentions of the makers of the statute.
one has to ascertain whether the power is coupled with a duty of the person to whom it is given to exercise it. Lord Campbell observed that there can be no universal applications as to when a statutory provisions be regarded as merely directory and when mandatory. Determination Test for determining whether a provision in a statute is directory or mandatory. MANDATORY AND DIRECTORY STATUTES Whether an enactment is mandatory or directory depends on the scope and the object of the statute. Distinction It is one of the rules of construction that a provision is not mandatory unless non-compliance with it is made penal (Jagannath v Jaswant singh).8. The 15 . However. sometimes the legislature uses such words interchangeably. In such cases. then it is imperative. whereas in case of provisions of directory enactments substantial compliance is satisfactory. If two interpretations are possible then the one which preserves the constitutionality of the particular statutory provisions should be adopted and the one which renders it unconstitutional and void should be rejected. Generally the intention of the legislature is expressed by mandatory and directory verbs such as „may‟. Non-compliance of mandatory provisions has penal consequences where as non-compliance of directory provisions would not furnish any cause of action or ground of challenge. Mandatory provisions should be fulfilled and obeyed exactly. Where the enactment demands the performance of certain provision without any option or discretion it will be called peremptory or mandatory. choice or judgment the enactment is directory. the interpreter of the law has to consider the intention of the legislature. Maxwell says “that it is impossible to lay down any general rule for determining whether a provision is mandatory or directory‟. On the other hand if the acting authority is vested with discretion. In deciding whether the provision is directory or mandatory. „shall‟ and „must‟. If so.
“Shall” in the normal sense imports command. In other words it depends on the intent of the legislature and not upon the language in which the intent is clothed. 16 . It depends upon the context in which the word „shall‟ occurs and the other circumstances. Construction The intent of the legislature must be ascertained not only from the phraseology of the provision. May signifies permission and implies that the authority has been allowed discretion. „shall‟ and „must‟ should initially be deemed to have been used in their natural and ordinary sense. the word „may‟ should be construed to mean a command ( Smt. design and consequences which would follow from construing it in one form or another: ‘May’.supreme court of India is stressing time and again that the question whether a statute is mandatory or directory. but also from its nature. Unless an interpretation leads to some absurd or inconvenient consequences or contradicts with the intent of the legislature the court shall interpret the word „shall‟ in mandatory sense. In state of UP v Jogendra Singh.J observed that „May” can never mean “must” but when any authority or body has a power to it by the word „May‟ it becomes its duty to exercise that power. Sudir Bala Roy v West Bengal). the Supreme Court observed that „there is no doubt that the word „may‟ generally does not mean „must‟ or „shall‟. “May” will have compulsory force if a requisite condition has to be filled. “Must” is doubtlessly a word of command. is not capable of generalization and that in each case the court should try and get at the real intention of the legislature by analyzing the entire provisions of the enactment and the scheme underlying it. It is also clear that when a discretion is conferred upon a public authority coupled with an obligation. ‘shall’ and ‘must’ The words „may‟. It is well settled that the use of the word „shall‟ does not always mean that the enactment is obligatory or mandatory. Cotton L. But it is well settled that the word „may‟ is capable of meaning „must‟ or „shall‟ in the light of context.
In procedural statutes both negative and affirmative are mandatory. it is supposed to be permissive with regard to the issue of time only. Time Fixation If time fixation is provided to the executive. However the Supreme Court held in Manila mohan lal v Syed Ahamed. Aids to construction for determination of the character of words can be used.Specific Terminologies 99% of negative terms are mandatory. However. affirmative terms are mostly mandatory where guiding principle for vesting of powers depends on context. Statutes regulating tax and election proceeding are generally considered permissive. It would be difficult to accept the argument that the failure to comply with the required said requirement should lead to any other consequence. 17 . whenever a statute requires a particular act to be done in a particular manner and also lays down that failure to comply will have consequence. provisions regarding time may be considered mandatory if the intention of the legislature appears to impose literal compliance with the requirement of time.
courts in Bangladesh are to ascertain the intention of Parliament. However. According to Maxwell. Having regard to the provisions of article 31 of the Constitution. the courts cannot enforce a law which is arbitrary. an omission. in spite of the clear and unambiguous language used in the statute to keep it within the bounds set forth by the Constitution. which the context shows with reasonable certainty to have been unintended. the court has the power to supply the desideratum and fill in the gap. The courts in Bangladesh are to apply the law as expressed by the legislature. the function of a court is to interpret a statute according to the intent of the legislature and in doing so it must be bear in mind that its function is “jus dicere. the Constitution of Bangladesh has set certain norms limiting the power of Parliament and the Constitution conferred power on the Supreme Court to oversee that Parliament in exercising its plenary power of legislation does not transgress the limit. This power of judicial review is the source of purposive construction. this has been possible because of the absence of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. The Supreme Court may modify the meaning of a provision to avoid the conflict of the statute with the provisions of the Constitution. In the construction of statutes. Likewise. It has also been held that the language of a statute may be modified by court to give effect to manifest and undoubted intention of the legislature. the legislature had in view. not jus dare” the words of a statute must not be overruled by the judges. 18 . courts here have all along adhered to the doctrine of purposive approach wherever necessary. Article 31 of our Constitution has adopted the due process concept in general and without any limitation and properly construed article 31 of our Constitution prohibits anything arbitrary. It has been held that where a plain construction will lead to absurd result and fail to carry out the purpose. may be supplied. Bangladesh has a written constitution with constitutional supremacy and the constitution has invested the Supreme Court with the power of judicial review.9. Thus. unreasonable or unjust. Unlike in the UK. ROLE OF SUPREME C OURT OF BANGLADESH IN INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE Though the legal system in Bangladesh is based on common law system as opposed to continental system. The safest course for getting legislative intent is to supply the golden rule of construing an enactment as a whole. but reform of the law must be left in the hands of Parliament.
In such situation the maxim of “ut res magis valear quam pereat” (it may rather become operative than null) comes into play. Court can modify the language of a statute to affect the manifest and undoubted intention of the legislature. The court is required to examine whether any other interpretation avoiding the apparent arbitrariness. Bennion on Statute Law. the court may limit the reach of the offending law even though the language of the statute permits its reach far beyond. article 111 of the Constitution specifically provides that pronouncement of the Supreme Court as regards law would operate as the law of the land. 3rd ed.204.unreasonable or unjust even if the language used by Parliament is clear beyond doubt. Even though the court cannot make a law for the Parliament. 5 Bennion. It is for this reason. ambiguous or equivocal needing interpretation. It is said that the court will not go for interpretation if the language of the provision is clear and beyond doubt ant the court will not for interpretation if the language of the provision is clear.5 Court is not concerned with the presumed intention of the legislature-its task is to get at the intention as expressed in the statute. if so available. then the court is to find out which one of the meaning is in accord with the legislative intent and that meaning is the legal meaning. But this isolationist approach is not correct. that notwithstanding the plenary power of legislation remaining vested in Parliament. (London: LexisNexis. A statute should be given an informed construction taking into account its context and the court is to find the legal meaning of the provisions of the statute which corresponds to the original legislative intention. In order to provide a constitutional dress-up. When the language of an enactment is ambiguous and admits of more than one meaning. But when the literal meaning is found to be contrary to the purpose of the legislation. 19 . unjustness or injustice is available and. Where two meanings are possible. reading down a statute in such situation is a well-established constitutional principle. The court is to read a provision of a statute in its context which includes other provisions of the statute and to see if on reading of the statute in its context the language appears to be vague. 2007). If this is not possible in view the specific language used by Parliament. the court is duty bound to refuse enforcement of the law as being inconsistence with the provisions of article 31and may be with the provision of article 27 of the Constitution. p. adopt that interpretation. the one that avoids absurdity or anomaly should be adopted.
may be open to interpretation and have ambiguities. with the aid of rules and procedures that are intended to decode ambiguous and vague legislation. ========================================== 20 . Statutory interpretation is the process of resolving those ambiguities and deciding how a particular bill or law will apply in a particular case. It is in the interest of fairness and justice for a court to properly apply legislation to case facts. Statutes. It is easy to see why statutory interpretation might be considered a skill of language. A statute. which is a bill or law passed by the legislature. which cannot be overlooked. Statutory interpretation is therefore an essential process. While legislators strive for clarity and precision when drafting legislation. imposes obligations and rules on the people. however. CONCLUSION Interpretation of statutes refers to the process by which a court looks at a statute and determines what it means. although they make the law.10. the courts will often go to great lengths to determine the true meaning of a statute. Statutory interpretation is an exercise carried out by the courts. rather than law.