Extraneous sources of Interpretation

The ascertainment of the means of a writing; the skill of finding out of the real sense of any form of words, that is the sense in which their author deliberate to convey, and of authorizing others to extract from them the same idea which the author intend to convey; the art of finding out or collecting the intention of a writer, either from his words, or from other conjecture, or from both; the use of some other signs or marks, besides he words of the speaker or writer, in order to accumulate or his meaning; the meagre finding of the real sense of the particular form of words used. In this article there is a brief explanation about the extraneous sources to interpretation discussed with the help of case laws. 

Internal Aids to interpretation

Title, preamble, marginal notes, punctuation marks, headings, sections, illustrations, provisos, exceptions, explanations, repealing and saving clauses, schedules, rules, forms, and especially entire context are the parts of the statute. These are the internal parts of the statute. These internal parts are very much helpful in interpreting the statute. Hence these are called ‘internal aids to interpretation’. These are ‘Intrinsic’ sources of the statute in itself. 

External Aids to interpretation

Reports of Commissions and Commissions, Proceedings in Parliament, Bills, Statement of Objects and Reasons, Practice under laws relating to different subjects, social and political history, public sentiment, historical facts, and surrounding circumstances, policy of the ruling party, Contemporanea expositio, executive decisions, usages, precedents, obiter dicta, stare decisis, foreign decisions, dictionaries, etc. are external matters to the statute. These are also helpful to a certain extent to understand and interpret the statutes. Hence these are called ‘External Aids to Interpretation’. These are also called ‘surrounding circumstances’

Case law- Doypack Systems Pvt. Ltd. v. Union Of India[1]

The Supreme Court held that the external aids are nothing in the files of various officials, dictionaries, earlier statutes, history of legislation, parliamentary proceedings, state of law as it existed when the Act was passed and the mischief sought to be suppressed and the remedy sought to be advanced by the Act. 

The following are the external aids to interpretation:-

  1. Parliamentary History/ Historical Facts;
  2. Statement of Objects and Reasons;
  3. Social, Political and Economic Development and Scientific Inventions;
  4. Reference to other Statutes; Codification and Consolidation;
  5. Foreign Decisions;
  6. Contemporanea Expositio/Usage and Practice;
  7. Dictionaries; etc. 

Parliamentary History/ Historical Facts

The Law Commission recommends for the construction of certain statutes to remove certain mischieves in the society. The ruling party promises several promises to the people. To implement them, it formulates certain policies. Under the instructions of the ruling party, the executie prepares the draft bill. The framers of the statute add the statements of objects and reasons for introducing the Bill in the legislation. The Bill is discussed in the Parliament or State Legislature, as the case may be. The members express their opinions. Some of them object and some of them support it. If the majority accepts the Bill, it forms into the Act. These stages are called ‘Parliamentary History’ or ‘History of Legislation’. It explains ‘surrounding circumstances’. Parliamentary history is an external aid to interpret the Act. In considering the parliamentary history as an external aid, there are different opinions and practices in different countries. 

Practice in England: In the beginning era, in Great Britain, the parliamentary history was not considered as an external aid to interpret. The parliamentary history was totally excluded in English practice at that time. 

Modern Trend: In the United Kingdom, the modern trend concludes that parliamentary history can be taken into consideration while interpreting the concerned statute. 

American Practice: There were divergent opinions and trends i.e. traditional and modern trends in the United Kingdom. However, in the United States of America since the beginning the modern trend has been adopted. The American courts adopted the practice of interpreting the statutes concerning the parliamentary history of the statutes. Exclusion of parliamentary history was very much relaxed there. The debates in th congress, reports of committees and commissions, etc. have been considered a valuable source of interpretation of statutes. 

Indian practice: During the British reign, the Privy Council was the supreme appellate court for India and also for other British reign dominions. Its appellate authority continued upto October, 1949 for India. The Privy Council followed the rigid traditional view of British practice. 

Case law- Ashwini Kumar Ghose v. Arabinda Bose[2]

The Supreme Court did not consider the parliamentary history and statement of objects and reasons as valid external aids to interpret the statutes. 

However, thi rigid view has been gradually diluted in the subsequent cases, there is a large number of case laws in supporting the modern view of English Practice adopted in India. 

Example: Indira Sawhney v. Union Of India[3]

Article 16 provides provisions for the reservations to ‘backward classes’. However, this term is not defined in this Article. A detailed discussion was held by the Supreme Court in this case, the SC referred Dr. Ambedkar’s speech in the Constituent Assembly, and observed as follows: “That the debates in the Constituent Assembly can be relied upon as an aid to interpretation of a constitution provision is borne out by a series of decisions of this court. Since the expression ‘backward class of citizens’ is not defined in the Constitution, reference to such debates is permissible to ascertain at any rate the contect, background and objective behind them. Particularly where the court wants to ascertain the ‘original intent’ such reference may be unavoidable”.[4]

Statement of Objects And Reasons 

Statement of objects and reasons is accompanied with the Bill. It explains the objects and reasons, which necessitates the passing of the statute in the Legislature. It is only an expression of the mover. The mover of the Bill Explains the scope and purpose of the legislation with the help of the statement of objects and reasons. As soon as the Bill is passed by the legislature, the Statement of objects and reasons loses its importance. It does not become the internal part of the statute. The title, preamble, sections, schedules,etc. Form the parts of the statute. But the statement of objects and reasons does not form part of the statute. It is not a part of the history of the legislation. Voting is not conducted on the statement of objects and reasons. However, the statement of objects and reasons is helpful to the law students, law lecturers, lawyers, jurisprudents in understanding the concept and objects of the concerned statute. 

Importance Of Statement Of Objects And Reasons

It is a well settled principle that when the statute is clear in its internal construction, the courts do not give importance to the statement of objects and reasons. If the terms used in the statute give double meaning, and lead to several interpretations, then the statement of objects and reasons can be taken into consideration to know the ‘real intention’ of the legislature and ‘real object’ of the statute.

Case law- Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co. Ltd. v. Gram Panchayat, Pimpri Waghere[5]

The Supreme Court did not consider the Statement and Reasons. However, their lordships gave judgement in favour of the gram panchayat holding that the term ‘houses’ would be sufficient to include the buildings, factories, and the gram panchayats could impose to remove the difficulty in imposing the taxes on buildings, factories. 

Social, Political and Economic Developments and Scientific Inventions

Social Development

Society forms with men. The customs, laws, family life, life-style, etc, all change from time to time. Once having many children was honoured. As the population has grown abnormally, one or two children are permitted and family planning operations are conducted. Law and society are not divisible as water-tight compartments. Both of them are inter-linked. Both of them co-operative, inter disciplinary individual sciences. Both of them are related to human behaviour. Both of them wish to render peace and prosperity to the society in their individual own ways. Sociology and law are interlinked. Each of them cannot survive without the other. 

Political Development

The english people have reigned India since the beginning of the seventeenth century 14th August, 1947. They introduced the English laws in India and other dominions under the reign. Though England has been a dramatic country and supremacy of Parliament has been prevailing from the last several centuries, having a king or queen as nominal ruler, they ruled India as a source of exploitation. They introduced the modern laws, public policies, culture, education, english, etc. to India with an intention to exploit India more and more. The British Government established the First Commission in 1834, which had drafted several important Acts for India, such as the Indian Penal Code,1860, the Indian Contract Act,1872, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; etc. on 15-8-1947, the independent democratic government came into existence in place of exploitative, imperialism British Government. The independent Indian Parliament adopted the Constitution of India on 26th January, 1950. Part-III of the Constitution of India provides the most valuable important ‘Fundamental Rights’  to Indian citizens. Part-IV called ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ are also very much important. Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 gives certain privileges to the State pertaining to ‘Affairs of the State’. The unpublished communications between Government officers are protected by this section. The change of Courts’ attitude in political matters is reflected in the cases of environmental law, torts, consumersion, human rights, particularly constitutional law.

Economic Development

Adam Smith in his “An inquiry into the Nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations” published in 1776, explained that there were four stages in human civilization- first stage; hunting; second stage: shephards; third stage: agriculture; and the last age of commerce. In the first stage there was no property and no economics and no laws. In that stage might is the right. The man lived like an animal. In the second stage, property in the shape of animals was formed. Therefore, economics preceded the law. First the concept of the property arose in human beings. Then it was needed to protect the rights of the possessors and owners of the property to maintain the law order in the society. Property has to be protected, and this, in Smith’s view, is the primary aim of Government. Economics is a central feature of the workings of society. Law plays an important role in regularising the economies in every country. Legislators are empowered to make appropriate laws regulating, demolishing, or introducing new laws and policies for the improvement of economies. The concepts of the property, ownerships,possession and consumption of the goods and services are explained in economics. At the same time, law also imposes certain guidelines for the proper utilization of such properties. 

Scientific Inventions

In the middle of the eighteenth century, an industrial revolution took place in the United Kingdom. Thereafter it spread to the entire world. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries several hundreds of scientific inventions were invented. This process is now also being continued. Example: Communication of Acceptance: section 4 of that Act explains the provisions about “Communication when complete”. 

Postal Rule

The problem arises when the promisor situates at one place and the promisee situated at a distant place. The rule in that circumstance is that the communication of an acceptance is completed as against the proposer when the letter is posted. Where, the proposal and acceptance are made by letters, the contract is made at the place where the letter of acceptance is posted. Section 4 clearly explains this rule. 

Case Law: Hairoom Bibi v. United India Life Insurance Co.[6]

The Supreme Court held that the policy had been revived from the date of the money order and not from the date of its receipt by the company, as the deceased/insured person sent the amount by post before the due date. 

Reference to Other Statutes

In certain occasions, the courts have to consider one or more sections of one statute, while interpreting another statute. This is called ‘Reference to other Statutes’. Reference to other statutes is also one of the important external aids to interpretation.

Example: (a) Maintenance, (b) Wages, (c) Environmental Pollution, (d) Land Grabbing 

Reference to other statutes can be understood in five separate sub-heads:-

(1) Statutes in pari materia

(2) Previous Legislation;

(3) Later legislation;

(4) Incorporation or reference of earlier Act into later; and 

(5) Codifying and Consolidating statutes.

Statutes in Pari Materia 

Statutes are in pari materia which is associated with the alike person or thing or one and the same class of persons or things. It applies to private statute or general laws made at different times, but in reference to the same subject. Thus the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 are interpreted together as if they were one statute, and as forming a united system, although they were enacted at different times. The are ‘statutes in pari materia’, and are to be constructed as if they had originally constituted one enactment. 

Case Law- Gwalior Rayons Silk Mfg. (Wvg.) Co. Ltd. V. Custodian of Vested Forests, Palghat and another[7]

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the appellant, and held that the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971 and the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1964 were not in pari materia.


Previous Legislation

Legislature is the competent authority to enact the statutes on the concerning subject. If it feels necessary depending upon the circumstances prevailing in the society, the Legislature makes an Act to remove the mischiefs. Society changes from time to time. When society changes, the circumstances also change. If the changes circumstances require, the Legislature amends the existing Act in certain phrases or sections, and sometimes, it brings a fresh Act in place of the existing Act. The Courts look into the previous legislation only when the intention of the legislature is not changed. If the intention and objects are changed from previous legislation, and the phrases used in the new statute are crystal clear, then there is no use of referring to the previous legislation.

Case Law- Bristol Tramways Carriage Co. Ltd. V. Fiat Motors Ltd.[8]

By referring previous Legislation and codified law on sale of goods; the House of Lords gave judgment in favor of the buyer-appellant holding that the argument of the respondent was not tenable and held that where, although an article was bought under a trade name, the buyer told his requirements to the seller so as to show that he relied on the seller’s skill and judgment.

Later Legislation

The legislature is competent to enact, amend and repeal the statutes.

Case law- Paresh Chandra Chatterjee v. State of Assam[9]

The Supreme Court gave judgment that the provisions of 1894 Act would apply to the 1948 Act. The provisions relating to the compensation for the acquisition under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 would also be read for the compensation for the requisition under the 1948 Act.

Codifying and Consolidating Statutes Codifying Statutes

Code- code is an organized collection of statutes, body of laws, so put out as to avoid inconsistency and overlay. It is a general collection or compilation of laws by public authority. It is a systematic and complete body of law on any subject. The code is broader and more comprehensive in its purposes. It contains all the law of the State on any particular subject. It is more than the environment of the law. It is the law itself. The code is to be complete and self-support and is not to be evolved, augmented, or altered except by legislative ratification.

Codify- to reduce existing enactments to a code.

Codification- codification is the systematizing of laws already in existence. It also means collection, compilation, methodical and systematic arrangement of laws in the State.

Purpose of Codification – codification systematizes case-law as well as statutes. In a body of codified law, no one statute should be so construed as to render the express provisions of another statute absolutely no force.

Case law- Bank of England v. Vagliano Bros.[10]

The Appellate Court gave judgment in favor of the bank holding that the banker, being the holder in due course, was protected against all such defenses under the 1882 Act. Their Lordships held that whether the bills were genuine or false, whether they were with or without consideration, all this the acceptor should have considered before signing his name on them.

Consolidating Statutes

Consolidate- to make solid, to continue

Consolidating statutes- consolidation of statutes is the combination in a single measure of all the statutes relating to a given subject-matter. The words ‘consolidate’ and ‘amend’ often occur in statutes revoked and repeat provisions which have been there before its passing. It should be noted that it does not merely consolidate pre-existing law, but also ‘amends’ it, which with consolidation of it signifies both ‘addition to’ and ‘derogation from’ the pre-existing law.

Example: The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. The 1996 Act is consolidating Act is a consolidating Act, because, it consolidates, –

(a)  The law relating to domestic arbitration i.e. arbitration for the matters within India;

(b)  The law relating to international commercial arbitration;

(c)  The law relating to the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards;

(d)  The law relating to conciliation; and

(e)  The law relating the matters or incidental for all the above.

Object- Consolidating statutes is the compilation of earlier enactments. It simplifies the former statute in modern language so that it can be adopted in the changed circumstances. The aim of consolidating statute is to immediate the whole of statutory law on an issue in absolute form revoking the former statute.

Foreign Decisions

The modern law, courts, administration of justice, separation of powers, interpretation of statutes by courts, etc. are new to India. We borrowed them from our Ex-British rulers. The seeds of all these systems were sown by Britishers in the seventeenth century. As their reign established throughout India, these British systems strengthened. All these are explained in a separate subject ‘Legal and Constitutional History of India’. The Supreme Court of India was established on 26-10-1950 after the Constitution of India came into existence. Before the Supreme Court came into existence, the Privy Council was the Apex Court for India and other British imperialistic reign countries. During the British reign, several cases were appealed to the Privy Council, situated in London. The jurisdiction of the Privy Council to hear appeals from India was completely abolished by the Abolition of the Privy Council Jurisdiction Act, 1949, which came into force on 10-10-1949. The decisions of Privy Council stand as good precedents still now. It served as a bridge between the English and the Indian Legal System.

Majority of our Acts are the word to word copies of the English Acts. Hence it has become the practice of Indian Courts to adopt English precedents in interpretation of statutes. Not only the Privy Council, the Indian Law has developed basing upon certain decisions of English courts.


(a)   Salomon v. Salomon & Co. Ltd.[11] For ‘independent corporate existence’ are the leading case-law.

(b)   Cooper v. Cooper[12] is the leading case-law for ‘Doctrine of Election’ in the Transfer of    Property Act, 1882

(c) Principles of insanity enunciated in M’naghten Case[13] are still considered by all the commonwealth countries including India.

(d) Constitution of India, the framers of the constitution borrowed different parts from different countries. The Preamble from U.N.O. The Fundamental Rights from the American constitution. The Supreme Court and the High Courts of India have taken considerable inspiration from the decisions of the American Courts while interpreting the Fundamental Rights while interpreting the Indian Constitution.

Contemporanea Expositio/Usage and Practice

Contemporanea Expositio- contemporaneous exposition or construction. Contemporanea exposition is a guide to the interpretation of documents or statutes. It is one of the important aids of the external aids. Nonetheless significant caution must be taken in its supplication. When a document is implemented between two parties, their motive can be well known by their demeanour at the time and after the implementation of the instrument. Where the words of the deed are ambiguous, the court may call in aid acts done under it as a clue to the intention of the parties. Their acts are the result of usages and practices in the society. Hence, their acts are helpful as an external aid to interpretation of the deed. This is explained in the following legal maxim:

Contemporanea exposition est optima et fortissimo in lege. (The best way to construe a document is to read it as it would have read when made.) This legal maxim means, usage or practice developed under statute is expressive of the meaning attributed to its words by present-time belief. Therefore ‘contempora expositio’ has become important among the external aids to interpretation.

Case Law- J.K. Cotton Spinning and Weaving Mills Ltd. And another v. Union of India and others[14]

The Supreme Court interpreted the Central Excise Rules, and gave judgment against the appellants, and dismissed the appeals.

Case Law- N. Suresh Nathan and another v. Union of India and others[15]

The Supreme Court gave judgment in favor of Diploma holder Junior Engineers counting their service prior to obtaining the degree for computing the period of three years for the purpose of promotion. The appeal was allowed. The order of the Tribunal was set aside. The Supreme Court also ordered the question of promotion in accordance with the decision.


There are several thousands of legal terms used in regular practice. Many words give several meanings. Meaning varies depending upon the circumstances used. There is a clear distinction between general words and legal terms. A law student and lawyer should identify these terms specifically. For a lawyer what is important is not how a word has been defined, not what a word literally means, he needs how a particular word has been judicially interpreted in courts of law.

Functional tool: dictionary is a very valuable and functional tool of reference for law students and lawyers. The courts take judicial notice of the ordinary meaning of all words. They admit the dictionaries not as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the courts.

Communicative Skills: By regular practice of studying a dictionary, one can develop his   communicative skills. He can improve fundamental principles of legal writing, such as concision, clarity, cogency, simplicity, etc.

Legal Maxims: most of the legal maxims are derived from Latin and French. In Legal dictionaries, their Latin and French version and their meaning in English are given. Legal Maxims are shown in Italics.

Legal Phrases: legal phrases are given in legal dictionaries, generally, the legal phrases are derived from Latin or French. Hence they are shown in Italics. The purpose of giving them in Italics is to identify those terms from general English terms.

Reference to Acts, Sections, Case-laws, etc.: in certain legal dictionaries, references to Acts, sections, case-laws, etc. are given. Dictionary contains the various terms of law, legal phrases, rules, doctrines, prevalent in India and England. It becomes easy for the student to acquire the knowledge pertaining those terms.

Process of changes: the legal dictionary reflects the changes in the law and society. In a sense, a legal dictionary may be viewed as a record of aspects of the process of changes which characterizes English law.

Interpretation of Statutes: A dictionary may be used by the advocates and courts to ascertain words to which no particular legal interpretation attaches. One of the main objects of every legal dictionary is to give an adequate and comprehensive definition of every word contained in it, which involves setting forth all the different meanings which can properly be given to the particular words. Dictionaries can always be referred to in order to ascertain not only the meaning of a word but also the general use of it.


The external aids to interpretation and the internal aids to interpretation are the aids which are very helpful in interpreting the statute in the better way also it helps in the better understanding of the statutes. The Supreme Court of India has given various landmark judgments which are to be abided by the High Courts and the District Courts; these judgments become precedents which is one of the external aid of interpretation. Also when the laws were made by the legislature they took interpretations of the foreign decisions which is another external aid of interpretation, so basically for the better understanding and better interpreting of the statutes the internal as well as the external aid to interpretation are very vital.


  1. AIR 1988 SC 782.
  2. AIR 1952 SC 369.
  3. AIR 1993 SC 324.
  4. Ibid. 
  5. AIR 1976 SC 2463.
  6. AIR 1947 Mad 122.
  7. 1990 Suppl. SCC 785.
  8. 1910) 2 KB 831.
  9. AIR 1962 SC 167.
  10. 10.1891 A.C. 107.
  11. 1897 AC 22.
  12. [1885] SLR 22_314.
  13. (1843) 4 St Tr (Ns 847).
  14. AIR 1988 SC 191.
  15. 1992 Sup. 1 SCC 584.


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