You are on page 1of 18

EXTERNAL AIDS FOR INTERPRETATION UNDER THE INDIAN LAW

For the purpose of construction or interpretation, the court obviously has to take recourse to
various internal and external aids. Internal aids mean those materials which are available in the
statute itself, though they may not be part of enactment. These internal aids include, long title,
preamble, headings, marginal notes, illustrations, punctuation, proviso, schedule, transitory
provisions, etc. When internal aids are not adequate, court has to take recourse to external aids. It
may be parliamentary material, historical background, reports of a committee or a commission,
official statement, dictionary meanings, foreign decisions, etc.
The Supreme Court has accepted the necessity of external aids in interpretation of statutory
provision. O.Chennappa Reddy J. in B. Prabhakar Rao and others v State of A.P. and others ,
1

has observed :

Where internal aids are not forthcoming, we can always have recourse to external aids to
discover the object of the legislation. External aids are not ruled out. This is now a well settled
principle of modern statutory construction. (para 7)
Recently, in District Mining Officer and others v Tata Iron & Steel Co. and another2
Supreme Court has observed:
It is also a cardinal principle of construction that external aids are brought in by widening the
concept of context as including not only other enacting provisions of the same statute, but its
preamble, the existing state of law, other statutes in pari materia and the mischief which the
statute was intended to remedy. (para 18)
So far as admissibility and utility of these external aids are concerned, law is almost settled in
our country now. The Supreme Court in K.P. Varghese v Income Tax Officer Ernakulam3 has
stated that interpretation of statute being an exercise in the ascertainment of meaning, everything
which is logically relevant should be admissible.
1

AIR 1986 SC 120.


(2001) 7 SCC 358.
3
AIR 1981 SC 1922.
2

Following are some known external aids, which are admissible for the interpretation of statutory
provisions:
(1) Parliamentary material
(a) Debates
Courts often take recourse to parliamentary material like debates in Constituent Assembly,
speeches of the movers of the Bill, Reports of Committees or Commission, Statement of Objects
and Reasons of the Bill, etc. As per traditional English view, these parliamentary material or
Hansard were inadmissible as external aids, on the basis of exclusionary rule. This
exclusionary rule was slowly given up and finally in Pepper v Hart4 it was held that
parliamentary material or Hansard may be admissible as an external aid for interpretation of a
statute, subject to parliamentary privilege, under following circumstances; where
(a) legislation is ambiguous or obscure or leads to an absurdity;
(b) the material relied on consists of one or more statements by a minister or other promoter of
the Bill, together, if necessary, with such other parliamentary material as is necessary to
understand such statements and their effect; and
(c) the statements relied on are clear.
Indian Courts, in early days followed the exclusionary rule which prevailed in England and
refused to admit parliamentary material or Constituent Assembly debates for the purpose of
interpretation of statutory or constitutional provision (see State of Travancore- Cochin and
others v Bombay Co. Ltd.5; Aswini Kumar Ghose and another v Arbinda Bose and
another6.) However, in subsequent cases, the Supreme Court relaxed this exclusionary rule,
much before the law laid down in England in Pepper case. Krishna Iyer J. in State of Mysore v
R.V. Bidop7 quoted a passage from Crawford on Statutory Construction (page 383) in which
exclusionary rule was criticized. The relevant passage is quoted below:4

(1993) 1 ALLER 42 (HL)


AIR 1952 SC 366.
6
AIR 1952 SC 369.
7
AIR 1973 SC 2555.
5

The rule of Exclusion has been criticized by jurists as artificial. The trend of academic opinion
and the practice in the European system suggests that interpretation of statute being an exercise
in the ascertainment of meaning, everything which is logically relevant should be admissible
Krishna Iyer J. has observed in this case:There is a strong case for whittling down the Rule of Exclusion followed in the British courts
and for less apologetic reference to legislative proceedings and like materials to read the
meaning of the words of a statute. (para 5)
In this regard, Bhagwati J. (as he then was) in Fagu Shaw etc. v The State of West Bengal 8 has
stated:
Since the purpose of interpretation is to ascertain the real meaning of a constitutional
provision, it is evident that nothing that is logically relevant to this process should be excluded
from consideration. It was at one time thought that the speeches made by the members of the
Constituent Assembly in the course of the debates of the Draft Constitution were wholly
inadmissible as extraneous aids to the interpretation of a constitutional provision, but of late
there has been a shift in this position and following the recent trends in juristic thought in some
of the Western countries and the United States, the rule of exclusion rigidly followed in Anglo
American jurisprudence has been considerably diluted
We may therefore legitimately refer to the Constituent Assembly debates for the purpose of
ascertaining what was the object which the Constitution makers had in view and what was the
purpose which they intended to achieve when they enacted cls (4) and (7) in their present form.
(para 45)
Again in R.S. Nayak v A.R. Antulay 9 the Supreme Court observed in this regard:

8
9

AIR 1974 SC 613.


(Supra).

Therefore, it can be confidently said that the exclusionary rule is flickering in its dying
embers in its native land of birth and has been given a decent burial by this Court. (para 34)
The Supreme Court in a numbers of cases referred to debates in the Constituent Assembly for
interpretation of Constitutional provisions. Recently, the Supreme Court in S.R. Chaudhuri v
State of Punjab and others10 has stated that it is a settled position that debates in the Constituent
Assembly may be relied upon as an aid to interpret a Constitutional provision because it is the
function of the Court to find out the intention of the framers of the Constitution. (para 33)
But as far as speeches in Parliament are concerned, a distinction is made between speeches of the
mover of the Bill and speeches of other Members. Regarding speeches made by the Members of
the Parliament at the time of consideration of a Bill, it has been held that they are not admissible
as extrinsic aids to the interpretation of the statutory provision. (see - K.S. Paripoornan v State
of Kerala and others11). However, speeches made by the mover of the Bill or Minister may be
referred to for the purpose of finding out the object intended to be achieved by the Bill (see K.S.
Paripoornans case.12 J. S. Verma J (as he then was) in R.Y. Prabhoo (Dr.) v. P.K. Kunte 13
made extensive reference to the speech of the then Law Minister Shri A.K. Sen for construing
the word his occurring in sub-section (3) of section 123 of the Representation of People Act
1951.
Similarly, Supreme Court in P.V. Narsimha Rao v State

14

agreeing with the view taken in

Pepper v Hart (Supra) has observed:


It would thus be seen that as per the decisions of this Court, the statement of the Minister who
had moved the Bill in Parliament can be looked at to ascertain mischief sought to be remedied
by the legislation and the object and purpose for which the legislation is enacted. The statement
of the Minister who had moved the Bill in Parliament is not taken into account for the purpose of
interpreting the provision of the enactment. (Para 77).
10

(2001) 7 SCC 126.


AIR 1995 SC 1012.
12
( supra).
13
(1995) 7 SCALE 1
14
AIR 1998 SC 2120
11

The Supreme Court in Sushila Rani v CIT and another15 referred to the speech of the Minister
to find out the object of Kar Vivad Samadhan Scheme 1998.
(b) Statement of Objects and Reasons
So far as Statement of Objects and Reasons, accompanying a legislative bill is concerned, it is
permissible to refer to it for understanding the background, the antecedent state of affairs, the
surrounding circumstances in relation to the statute and the evil which the statute sought to
remedy. But, it cannot be used to ascertain the true meaning and effect of the substantive
provision of the statute. (Devadoss (dead) by L. Rs, v. Veera Makali Amman Koil Athalur16.
(c) Reports of Parliamentary Committees and Commissions
Reports of Commissions including Law Commission or Committees including Parliamentary
Committees preceding the introduction of a Bill can also be referred to in the Court as evidence
of historical facts or of surrounding circumstances or of mischief or evil intended to be remedied.
Obviously, courts can take recourse to these materials as an external aid for interpretation of the
Act. Though, the Supreme Court refused to take recourse to the Report of the special Committee
which had been appointed by the Government of India to examine the provision of the
Partnership Bill for construing the provisions of the Partnership Act, 1932 in CIT, A.P. v
Jaylakshmi Rice and Oil Mills Contractor Co.17, yet in another case Haldiram Bhujiawala
and another v Anand Kumar Deepak Kumar and another 18 the Supreme Court took recourse
to the very same report of the Special Committee (1930-31) for construing the provisions of
section 69 of the Partnership Act, 1932. The Supreme Court in the above case held that decision
in CIT v. Jaylakshmi Rice & Oil Mills 19 in this respect is no longer good law. Law
Commissions Reports can also be referred to where a particular enactment or amendment is the
result of recommendations of Law Commission Report. (see Mithilesh Kumari v Prem Behari

15

(2002) 2 SCC 697


AIR 1998 SC 750.
17
AIR 1971 SC 1015.
18
(2000) 3 SCC 250.
19
(supra).
16

Khare20). Similarly, the Supreme Court in Rosy and another v State of Kerala and others21
considered Law Commission of India, 41st Report for interpretation of section 200 (2) of the
Code of Criminal Procedure,1898.
The above discussion obviously indicates that parliamentary material including committees and
commission reports are admissible external aid for interpretation of statutory provisions.
(2) Reference to other statutes
It is a settled principle that for the purpose of interpretation or construction of a statutory
provision, courts can refer to or can take help of other statutes. It is also known as statutory aids.
The General Clauses Act, 1897 is an example of statutory aid. Apart from this, Court can take
recourse to other statutes which are in pari mataria i.e. statute dealing with the same subject
matter or forming part of the same system. Supreme Court in Common Cause, A Registered
Society v Union of India22 took recourse to section 13A and 139 (4B) of the Income Tax Act
1961 for the purpose of interpretation of Explanation I to section 77 (1) of the Representation of
the People Act, 1951.
The application of this rule of construction has the merit of avoiding any contradiction between a
series of statutes dealing with the same subject; it allows the use of an earlier statute to throw
light on the meaning of a phrase used in a later statute in the same context. On the same logic
when words in an earlier statute have received an authoritative exposition by a superior court,
use of same words in similar context in a later statute will give rise to a presumption that the
legislature intends that the same interpretation should be followed for construction of those
words in the later statute. (see Bengal Imunity Co. Ltd. v State of Bihar23). However, a later
statute is normally not used as an aid to construction of an earlier statute, but when an earlier
statue is truly ambiguous; a later statute may in certain circumstances serve as a parliamentary
exposition of the former.
(3) Usages and Practice
20

AIR 1989 SC 1247.


(2000) 2 SCC 230.
22
AIR 1996 SC 3081.
23
AIR 1955 SC 661
21

Usages and practice developed under a statute is indicative of the meaning ascribed to its words
by contemporary opinion and in case of an ancient statute, such reference to usage and practice is
an admissible external aid to its construction. But this principle is not applicable to a modern
statute and it is confined to the construction of ambiguous language used in old statute. This
principle of contemporanea exposito was applied by the Supreme Court in National and
Grindlays Bank v Municipal Corporation for Greater Bombay 24 while construing Bombay
Municipal Corporation Act, 1888. The apex court also referred to the actual practice in the
matter of appointment of judges of Supreme Court and High Court in the context of interpreting
Articles 74 and 124 of the Constitution and observed that the practice being in conformity with
the constitutional scheme should be accorded legal sanction by permissible constitutional
interpretation. (see Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association v Union of India.)25
(4) Dictionaries
When a word is not defined in the statute itself, it is permissible to refer to dictionaries to find
out the general sense in which that word is understood in common parlance. (See Municipal
Board Sarahanpur v Imperial Tabacco of India Ltd..26 However, in the selection of one out
of the various meanings of a word, regard must always be had to the scheme, context and
legislative history.
(5) Foreign Decisions
For the purpose of construction of Indian statutes, courts also refer to decisions of foreign courts
which are following same system of jurisprudence as ours. The assistance of such decisions is
subject to the qualification that prime importance is always to be given to the language of the
relevant Indian statute, the circumstances and the setting in which it is enacted and the relevant
conditions in India where it is to be applied. These foreign decisions have persuasive value only
and are not binding on Indian courts and where guidance is available from binding Indian
24

AIR 1969 SC 1048.

25

AIR 1994 SC 268.

26

(1999) 1 SCC 566).

decisions, reference to foreign decisions is of no use (see Forasol v ONGC27; General Electric
Co. v. Renusagar Power Co.28.
While interpreting provisions relating to fundamental rights contained in the Indian Constitution,
Supreme Court took much assistance from American precedents. In case where an International
Convention is involved, it is obviously desirable that decisions in different jurisdictions across
the world should so far as possible be kept in line with each other. Therefore, in such cases
foreign decisions are more useful for guiding the courts.
(6) Historical facts and surrounding circumstances
Apart from the various external aids discussed above, courts while interpreting a statutory
provision, can take into account relevant historical facts or history of enactment in order to
understand the subject matter of statute. Court can also have regard to the surrounding
circumstances which existed at the time of passing of the statute. But, like any other external aid,
the inference from historical facts and surrounding circumstances must give way to the clear
language employed in the enactment itself. In this regard, Supreme Court in Mohanlal Tripathi
v. Distt. Magistrate Rail Bareilly and others29 has observed:
Value of historical evolution of a provision or reference to what preceded the enactment is
an external aid to understand and appreciate the meaning of a provision, its ambit or expanse
has been judicially recognized and textually recommended. But this aid to construe any
provision which is extremely hazardous should be resorted to, only, if any doubt arises about
the scope of the section or it is found to be sufficiently difficult and ambiguous to justify the
construction of its evaluation in the statute book as a proper and logical course and secondly,
the object of the instant enquiry should be to ascertain the true meaning of that part of the
section which remains as it was and which there is no ground for thinking of the substitution of a
new proviso was intended to alter. (para 7)

27

AIR 1984 SC 241.


(1987) 4 SCC 137).
29
(1992) 4 SCC 80
28

This rule of admissibility permits recourse to historical works, pictures, engraving and
documents where it is important to ascertain ancient facts of a public nature.
Recently, Supreme Court while dealing with the Dental Act, 1948 in Dental Council of India v
Hariprakash30 has observed:
The Act is a pre constitutional enactment but it has application in the post constitutional era
also. When interpreting such an enactment, we have not only to bear in mind the historical
background leading to the legislation and the amendments effected therein, but also various
aspects covered by it. (para 3.1)
It is apparent from this discussion that historical facts and surrounding circumstances are also
relevant facts to be taken into account by the Court as external aids for interpretation of statutes.
(7) Later Development and Scientific Inventions
It is often possible that after the enactment of a statute, political and economic developments in
the society may take place. New scientific inventions may also come out. The legislature might
not have been aware of all these developments and inventions, when the law was made.
Therefore, courts take into account all these development while construing statutory provisions.
In this regard, Bhagwati J. (as he then was) in S.P. Gupta v Union of India31 has stated:
The interpretation of every statutory provision must keep pace with changing concepts and
values and it must, to the extent to which its language permits or rather does not prohibit, suffer
adjustments through judicial interpretation so as to accord with the requirement of the fast
changing society which is undergoing rapid social and economic transformation It is
elementary that law does not operate in a vacuum. It is, therefore, intended to serve a social
purpose and it cannot be interpreted without taking into account the social, economic and
political setting in which it is intended to operate. It is here that the Judge is called upon to
perform a creative function. He has to inject flesh and blood in the dry skeleton provided by the
legislature and by a process of dynamic interpretation, invest it with a meaning which will
30
31

(2001) 8 SCC 61
AIR 1982 SC 149.

harmonise the law with the prevailing concepts and values and make it an effective instrument
for delivery of justice. (para 62)
Again, in S.P. Jain v Krishan Mohan Gupta and others32 the Supreme Court has held:
We are of the opinion that law should take pragmatic view of the matter and respond to the
purpose for which it was made and also take cognizance of the current capabilities of
technology and life style of community. (para 18)
With the change of times, Article 21 of the Constitution which was at one time interpreted in a
very narrow way has now been interpreted in such a way, that the right to life includes
everything which makes a mans life meaningful, complete and worth living. The Supreme Court
in J.K. Cotton Spinning & Wvg Mills Ltd. v Union of India

33

observed at para 45 that in a

modern progressive society it would be unreasonable to confine the intention of the legislature to
the meaning attributed to the word used at the time the law was made and unless a contrary
intention appears, an interpretation should be given to the words used to take in new facts and
situations, if the words are capable of comprehending them.
Therefore, court has to take into account social, political and economic developments and
scientific inventions which take place after enactment of a statute for proper construction of its
provision.

International Conventions
Apart from these external aids, court also take recourse to other material. For example, wherever
necessary, court can look into International Conventions (P.N. Krishanlal v Govt. of Kerala 34).
The Supreme Court in Visakha v. State of Rajasthan35 took recourse to International
Convention for the purpose of construction of domestic law. The Court observed:32

AIR 1987 SC 222.


AIR 1988 SC 191.
34
(1995) Sup. (2) SCC 187.
35
AIR 1997 SC 3011.
33

In the absence of domestic law occupying the field to formulate effective measures to check the
evil of sexual harassment of working women at all work places, the contents of International
Conventions and norms are significant for the purpose of interpretation of the guarantee of
gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Articles 14, 15, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the
Constitution and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein. Any international
convention not inconsistent with the fundamental rights and in harmony with its spirit must be
read into those provisions to enlarge the meaning and content thereof, to promote the object of
the Constitutional guarantee. (para 7)

Other materials
Similarly, Supreme Court used information available on internet for the purpose of interpretation
of statutory provision in Ramlal v State of Rajasthan36. Courts also refer passages and materials
from text books and articles and papers published in the journals. We are of the view that these
external aids are very useful tools not only for the proper and correct interpretation or
construction of statutory provision, but also for understanding the object of the statute, the
mischief sought to be remedied by it, circumstances in which it was enacted and many other
relevant matters. In the absence of the admissibility of these external aids, sometime court may
not be in a position to do justice in a case.

36

(2001) 1 SCC 175.

External Aids to construction in Interpretation of Statutes


INTRODUCTION
In a welfare State, rule of law plays a very vital role. As we are familiar with that law is
codified into statutes. To give effect to a statute it should be interpreted as it is.
Interpretation is the breath of a statute. Whenever the words are ambiguous the statute
should be interpreted according to the intention of the legislature. Interpretation should not
stop, because of interpretation we come to know the intention of the legislature as to why
the statute has been passed.
Whenever the words in a statute are ambiguous it is the duty of the court to interpret the
statute by referring to internal aids and external aids. Internal aids are inside the statute
itself. Where the mind labours to discover the design of the legislature, it seizes everything
from which aid can be given. In Bostan Sand & Co. v. United States , when the meaning of
the language was plain, the courts were not to resort to evidence in order to raise doubts,
Holmes J. said -That is rather an axiom of experience than a rule of law and does not
preclude consideration of persuasive evidence if it exists. If the Congress has been

accustomed to use a certain phrase with a more limited meaning than might be attributed
to it by common practice, it would be arbitrary to refuse to consider that fact when we come
to interpret a statute.- The meaning to be ascribed to an Act can only be derived from a
considered weighing of every relevant aid to construction.
But when it comes to the external aids they stay outside the statute and prove a good aid in
interpretation of the statute.
2. External aids to construction
Apart from the intrinsic aids to construction, such as preamble and the purview of the Act,
the Court can consider resources outside the Act, called the extrinsic aids, in interpreting
and finding out the purpose of the Act. Where the words of an Act are clear and
unambiguous, no recourse to extrinsic matter, even if it consists of the sources of the
codification, is the intrinsic aids, such as preamble and purview of the Act. Sources outside
the Act called extrinsic aids. These resources deal mainly with the history of the Act, both
with the prior events leading up to the introduction of the Bill, Select Committee reports.
In Mohd Hanif Quareshi v. State of Bihar , the Supreme Court took in to the consideration
the Report of the Uttar Pradesh Gosamvardhan Committee and the fact that three of the
members of the committee were Muslims and had concurred in the unanimous
recommendation for a total ban on slaughter of cows.
The courts have only to enquire, what has the legislature thought for to enact? As long ago
as Heydon's case, Lord Coke said: It was resolved that for the sure and true interpretation
of all the statutes in general, be they penal or beneficial, restrictive or enlarging of the
common law, four things are to be discerned and considered
a) What was the common law before the Act.
b) What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide.
c) What remedy the Parliament had resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the
commonwealth.
d) The true reason for the remedy.
The rule upon the subject was well articulated in the case of Stradling v. Morgan , wherein it
was said: -The judges of the law in all times past have so far pursued the intent of the
makers of statutes, that they have expounded the Acts which were general in words to be
but particular where the intent was particular. The sages of the law heretofore have
construed statutes quite contrary to the letter, in some appearance, and those statutes
which comprehend all things in the letter, they have expounded to extend but to some
things, and those which generally prohibit all people from doing such an act, they have
interpreted to permit some people to do it, and those which include every person in the
letter, they have adjudged to reach some persons only; which expositions have always been
founded upon the intent of the legislature, which they have collected sometimes by
considering the clause and necessity of making the Act, sometimes by comparing one part
of the Act with another, and sometimes by foreign circumstances so that they have ever
been guided by the intent of the legislature, which they have always taken according to the
necessity of the matter and according to that which is consonant to reason and good
discretion-.
It is appropriate to consider the state of law which it proposes or claim to alter, the mischief
which existed and which it was intended to remedy, and the nature of the remedy provided
and to look at the statute in pari materia as a means of explaining the statute. These

external aids are the proper modes of ascertaining the intention of the legislature. -It is not
the words of the law but the internal sense of it- that makes the law and the law consists of
two parts, viz., body and soul, the letter of the law is the body of the law and the sense and
the reason of the law is the soul of the law. And it often happens that when you know the
letter you know not the sense, for sometimes it is more large and extensive. As Supreme
Court said, the courts should have regard not merely to literal meaning of words used, but
also take into consideration the antecedent history of the legislation, its purpose and the
mischief it seeks to suppress.
To know the evil which it is designed to remedy, the courts may properly look at
contemporaneous events, the situation as it existed and it was pressed upon the attention
of the legislative body. If the court finds that the meaning of a statutory provision is not
clear in itself, it can examine the surrounding circumstances that led to or accompanied its
enactment, that is, all those external or historical facts which are necessary for the
comprehension of the subject matter, scope and object of an enactment. Recourse to
extrinsic aid in interpreting a statutory provision would be justified only within well
recognized limits; and primarily the effect of the statutory provisions must be judged on a
fair and reasonable construction of the word used by the statute itself.
In coming to a determination as to the meaning of the a particular word in a particular Act,
it is permissible to consider two points, namely, (a) the external evidence derived from
extraneous circumstance such as previous legislation and decided cases etc., and (b) the
internal evidence derived from the Act itself.
PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY
The ingredients of Parliamentary History are the bill in its original form or the
amendments considered during its progress in the Legislature, Speech of the
minister who introduced the bill in the Parliament which is also referred to as
Statements of Objects and Reasons, Reports of Parliamentary debates and
resolutions passed by either House of the Parliament and the Reports submitted
different Parliamentary Committees.According to thetraditional English view the
Parliamentary History of a statute was not considered as an aid to construction. The
Supreme Court of India in the beginning enunciated the rule of exclusion of Parliamentary
History in the way it was traditionally enunciated by the English Courts but on many an
occasion, the court used this aid in resolving questions of construction. In Indira Sawhney v.
Union of India, while interpreting Article 16(4) of the Constitution the Supreme Court
referred to Dr. Ambedkars speech in the ConstituentAssembly as the expression backward
class of citizens is not defined. The court held that reference to Parliamentary debate is
permissible to ascertain the context, background and objective of the legislatures but at the
same time such references could not be taken as conclusive or binding on the courts. Thus
in the Mandal Reservation Case, the SupremeCourt resorted to Parliamentary History as an
aid to interpretation. In the Ashwini Kumars Case (1952), the then Chief Justice of India
Patanjali Shastri quoted that the Statement of Objects and Reasons should not be used as
an aid to interpretation because in his opinion the Statement of Objects and Reasons is
presented in the Parliament when a bill is being introduced. During the course of the
processing of the bill, it undergoes radical changes. But in the Subodh Gopals Case (1954),
Justice S.R. Das although he fully supported Chief Justice Patanjali Shastris views in
theAshwini Kumars Case but he wanted to use the Statement of Objects and Reasons to
protect the sharecroppers against eviction by the new buyers of land since zamindari

system was still not abolished and land was still not the property of the farmers. So Justice
S.R. Das took the help of Statements of Objects and Reasons to analyse the social, legal,
economic and political condition in which the bill was introduced.
In Harsharan Verma v. Tribhuvan Narain Singh , the appointment of Tribhuvan Narayan
Singh as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was challenged as at the time of his
appointment he was neither a member of Vidhan Sabha nor a member of Vidhan Parishad.
While interpreting Article 164(4) of the Constitution, the Supreme Court held that it did not
require that a Minister should be a Member of the Legislature at the time of his being
chosen as such, the Supreme Court referred to an amendment which was rejected by the
Constituent Assembly requiring that a Minister at the time of his being chosen should be a
member of the Legislature.
HISTORICAL FACTS AND SURROUNDING CIRCUMSTANCES
Historical facts are very essential to understand the subject matter of the statute or to have
regard to the surrounding circumstances which existed at the time of passing of the statute.
The rule of admissibility of this external aid is especially useful in mischief rule. The rule that
was laid down in the Heydons Case (1584), has now attained the status of a classic. The
mischief rule enables the consideration of four matters in construing an act:
*What was the law before the making of the Act?
*What was the mischief for which the law did not provide?
*What was the remedy provided by the Act?
*What was the reason of the remedy?
This rule was applied in Bengal Immunity Co. v. State of Biharin the construction of
Article 286 of the Constitution in which the Supreme Court held that a state has the
legislative competence to impose sales tax only if all the ingredients of a sale have a
territorial nexus. Thus on the same transaction sales tax cannot be imposed by several
states. Since the function of the court is to find the meaning of the ambiguous words in a
statute, a reference to the historical facts and surrounding circumstances that led to the
enactment assist the courts in efficient administration of speedy justice. The rule permits
recourse to historical works, engravings, pictures and documents where it is important to
ascertain ancient facts of a public nature. Historical evolution of a provision in the statute is
also sometimes a useful guide to its construction.
REFERENCE TO OTHER STATUTES
It is a settled principle that for the purpose of interpretation or construction of a statutory
provision, courts can refer to or can take help of other statutes. It is also known as
statutory aids. The General Clauses Act, 1897 is an example of statutory aid. Apart from
this, Court can take recourse to other statutes which are in pari mataria i.e. statute dealing
with the same subject matter or forming part of the same system. Supreme Court in
Common Cause, A Registered Society v Union of India took recourse to section 13A and 139
(4B) of the Income Tax Act 1961 for the purpose of interpretation of Explanation I to section
77 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
The application of this rule of construction has the merit of avoiding any contradiction
between a series of statutes dealing with the same subject; it allows the use of an earlier
statute to throw light on the meaning of a phrase used in a later statute in the same

context. On the same logic when words in an earlier statute have received an authoritative
exposition by a superior court, use of same words in similar context in a later statute will
give rise to a presumption that the legislature intends that the same interpretation should
be followed for construction of those words in the later statute. (see Bengal Imunity Co. Ltd.
v State of Bihar . However, a later statute is normally not used as an aid to construction of
an earlier statute, but when an earlier statue is truly ambiguous; a later statute may in
certain circumstances serve as a parliamentary exposition of the former.
USAGES AND PRACTICE
Usages and practice developed under a statute is indicative of the meaning ascribed to its
words by contemporary opinion and in case of an ancient statute, such reference to usage
and practice is an admissible external aid to its construction. But this principle is not
applicable to a modern statute and it is confined to the construction of ambiguous language
used in old statute. This principle of contemporanea exposito was applied by the Supreme
Court in National and Grindlays Bank v Municipal Corporation for Greater Bombay while
construing Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888. The apex court also referred to the
actual practice in the matter of appointment of judges of Supreme Court and High Court in
the context of interpreting Articles 74 and 124 of the Constitution and observed that the
practice being in conformity with the constitutional scheme should be accorded legal
sanction by permissible constitutional interpretation. (see Supreme Court Advocates on
Record Association v Union of India.)
DICTIONARIES
It is conventional principle of construction of statutes that in the absence of there being
anything contrary to the context, the language of a statute should be interpreted according
to the simple dictionary meaning of the terms used in the dictionary. When a word is not
defined in the Act itself, it is permissible to refer to dictionaries to find out the general sense
in which that word is under-stood in common parlance. It is not always safe way to construe
a statute by dividing it by a process of etymological dissection and then to give each word
some particular definition given by lexicographers.
The duty of the court is to interpret and give full effect to the words used by the legislature
and it is really not relevant to find out what a particular branch of the public may or may
not understand to be the meaning of those words. It is for the courts to interpret them as
the best as they can. The courts in doing so may assist themselves in the discharge of their
duty by any literary help which they can obtain, including of course, the consultation of
standard authors and also a reference to well known and authoritative dictionaries which
state where the interpretations which they give to the words of the English language are to
be found.
In Midland Rail Co., v. Robinson, Lord Herschell used Dr. Johnson's dictionary to know the
meaning of the word mine' but Lord Machnaghten said that on such a point the opinion of
such Judges as Kindersly, V.C. Turner, L.J. and Jessel, M.R. was probably a safer guide than
any definition or illustrations to be found in dictionaries.
Dictionaries cannot be taken as authoritative exponents of the meaning of words used
because the plainest words may be controlled by reference to the context.
A dictionary meaning cannot be adopted if it will make some existing words redundant or
will require reading of some additional words. The words and expressions at times have a

technical or a legal meaning and in that case they are understood in that sense.
A explanation of a particular word given in a lexicon in terms of a court's decision should not
be used unless the decision was given under an Act in pari materia with the Act in question.
Judicial decisions expounding the meanings of words in construing statutes in pari materia
will have more weight than the meaning furnished by the dictionaries. Dictionaries and
reports from foreign countries are not safe guides. The safest guide is always the statute
itself which is under consideration.
Now days, dictionaries mainly law lexicons are becoming authoritative because they furnish
the meaning of a term by referring to a statute or a judicial decision which may be
landmark.
FOREIGN DECISIONS
For the purpose of construction of Indian statutes, courts also refer to decisions of foreign
courts which are following same system of jurisprudence as ours. The assistance of such
decisions is subject to the qualification that prime importance is always to be given to the
language of the relevant Indian statute, the circumstances and the setting in which it is
enacted and the relevant conditions in India where it is to be applied. These foreign
decisions have persuasive value only and are not binding on Indian courts and where
guidance is available from binding Indian decisions, reference to foreign decisions is of no
use (see Forasol v ONGC; General Electric Co. v. Renusagar Power Co.) While interpreting
provisions relating to fundamental rights contained in the Indian Constitution, Supreme
Court took much assistance from American precedents. In case where an International
Convention is involved, it is obviously desirable that decisions in different jurisdictions
across the world should so far as possible be kept in line with each other. Therefore, in such
cases foreign decisions are more useful for guiding the courts.
CONCLUSION
The chief source of law is legislation, though there are other sources of law such as
precedents and customs. Every source of law finds its expression in a language. Often the
language has a puzzling effect, i.e., it masks and distorts. Often it is found that the
language of a statute is not clear. The words used in the statute too at times seem to be
ambiguous. Sometimes it is not possible to assign the dictionary meaning to certain words
used in legislation. Meaning which is to be assigned to certain words in a legislation. Even
the dictionary does not give the clear-cut meaning of a word. This is so because the
dictionary gives many alternative meanings applicable in different contexts and for different
purposes so that no clear field for the application of a word is easily identified. So long as
expansion of meaning takes place uniformly, the law will develop along healthy lines. But if
one judge takes the narrow view and the other the broad view, the law will mean different
things for different persons and soon there will be confusion. Hence, it is necessary that
there should be some rules of interpretation to ensure just and uniform decisions. Such
rules are called rules of interpretation. There are various aids to the rule of interpretation
and in case the ambiguity is not removed even after applying the internal aids, then the
external aids can come in handy. They provide various methods by the help of which a
statute can be interpreted and used by the judiciary in deciding cases.
REFERENCE
1.
Bindra N.S., Interpretation of Statutes', 5th edn., Law Book Company,
19702.

2.
Jagdish Swarup, Legislation And Interpretation', 2nd edn., Dandewal
Publishing House, Allahabad, 19743. Maxwell, The Interpretation of Statutes', 12th
edn.,

3.

papers.ssrn.com, External Aids to Interpretation of Statutes: A Critical Appraisal by Swati

Rao

4.

Varghese& Potty, Interpretation of statutes principles of legislation & Legislative drafting,


6th Revised edn. Law Book Centre