Interpretation of Statutes


The act or process of discovering and expounding the intended significance of the language used in any written document, the meaning, which the author wants to convey to others is called interpretation.[1] Interpretation implies the importance of understanding the exact nature of a legislation by providing its ordinary explanation to the words of the legislation. It is the method of evaluating the actual significance of the terms used in a statute. It is not assumed that the Court will view it unfairly and, thus, these concepts have emerged from the continuing exercise by the judiciary. The purpose of the interpretation of statutes is to establish the meaning directly or indirectly expressed by the legislators in the vocabulary employed.[2] The legal system of all regions has also been advanced to make sure that redress is made accessible to everyone. It is, therefore, incredibly relevant and practically appropriate for the judiciary to interpret the law in such a way that access to justice is guaranteed to the full potential.



The phrase ‘Interpretation’ has been derived from the Latin word ‘Interpretari’ which refers to elucidate, comprehend and construe. The interpretation of statutes is limited only to courts of law. Court system has established a broad and comprehensive framework of laws over decades to instruct themselves in the formation or application of laws. The main responsibility of the courts is interpretation. The government has three areas: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary. It is the legislature that puts up the laws, but it is also the judiciary that operates or uses the statute. There exists a need for the judges to determine the right interpretation of the law established by that of the legislators. While the judicial system is performed in compliance with the requirements of law by the courts, it also demands that some principles of interpretation exist to guarantee that they are enforced by just and standardized judgments. The most significant goal accomplished by the interpretation of statutes would be to make sure that the judiciary acts in compliance with the legislature’s purpose. The various possibilities and variations that can occur throughout the actual application of the law as well as to account for every one of these in context excluded from certain inconsistencies are not beyond the ability of people to anticipate.  



  1. Inconsistency, unclear and contradictory meaning could arise from the complexities of the laws due to the technical language.
  2. Anticipated occurrence expectation contributes to the use of uncertain words. Using uncertain vocabulary often contributes to the difficult task of imagining any potential outcome. Consequently, due to the differences in legislation, courts have had to interpret statutes.
  3. Terms may have several meanings depending on the context. The description and sense of the terminology most beneficial to the individual needs will be used by each party in proceedings. It’s indeed up to the courts to determine the correct use of the vocabulary.
  4. A mistake that had not been found by lawmakers while the formulation of the legislation may have occurred.
  5. The person could be unaware of the terms that the law framer overlooked.
  6. Inadvertent use of a term due to mistakes in print, or some other fault, like using a term with such a broader sense that might not be specified.
  7. A circumstance which isn’t really expressly protected by the law could occur. It is up to the court to determine if the legislation must be interpreted to include the law that has been excluded or if the law should be limited to the particular issues defined.
  8. There is a constant transition in the communities. The old law may therefore not be valid in the current period, since the definition of terms may indeed evolve and over decades.




The object of the interpretation of statutes is to assist the Court in deciding the legislation’s intention. The inclination of the legislatures is not to regulate that or restrict it within the constraints, that the Court can consider fair or necessary. There is no requirement of interpretation of statutes when the meaning of these statutes could be comprehended easily.

In the case of Grasim Industries Ltd v. Collector of Customs, Bombay, the court had held that there is no scope for the court to take on the challenge of amending or changing the legislative provisions if the terms are plain and there is no obscurity, and there is no ambiguity and the purpose of the legislature is clearly expressed.[3]

In the case of R.S Nayak v. A.R. Antulay, the court held that it is the court’s plain obligation, if the terms of the statute are specific and indisputable, to bring clarity to the ordinary sense of the term used throughout the clause and the issue of interpretation occurs just in the case that the terms used in the statutes are ambiguous or that the plain meaning of them is self-defeating.[4]



A rule is a systematic or defined order of events. It is something that has been recommended or defined as a guideline for behavior or action. Without such guidelines, it will eventually be difficult to not only comprehend the legislation, but also to enforce it, with changing circumstances that legislature and the judiciary may not even have predicted whenever the legislation was created. There are no formal guidelines that specify which interpretation of law should be used and the rules of interpretation that have already been established aren’t really actual laws either.

There have been some general standards of interpretation that have also been enforced occasionally by the judiciary. There are specifically three rules of interpreting statutes in accordance with the English cases and are as follows:[5]

  • Literal Rule
  • Golden Rule
  • Mischief Rule

 Literal Rule

The terms are explained in their usual and appropriate significance with reference to the laws, and if the context of these terms is plain, they should really be influenced through what their impact has been. The standard, usually common or literal sense of the terms must, therefore, be factored into the equation. It is the standard interpretation rule which courts really aren’t welcome to add to or delete from the law.

In the case of Regional Provident Fund Commissioner, Andhra Pradesh v. T.S. Hariharan, it was held by the court that if the language is not clear, words have to be construed in the light of the legislative scheme, the object, and purpose of enacting the provision and the ultimate effect of adopting one or the other construction.[6]

In the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, the court held that a word gets its ‘colour’ in the context in which it is used and that the word gathers its meaning not only from the context in which it has been used but from the words used in similar conditions.[7]

Golden Rule

The Golden rule is also referred to as the British rule, which is a type of legislative intent that requires a court to differ from its usual sense of a word in order to deter an unreasonable outcome. It brings the terms of a legislation their simple, common sense, just as the Literal Rule. Where there is some confusion about the sense of the term, the golden rule plays a role. If any unreasonable and ambiguous definition is provided by literal interpretation and this cannot be acknowledged, then the Golden rule is applicable to eliminate such incoherence.

In the case of Newspapers Ltd. v. State Industrial Tribunal, it was held that in order to get the true import of the statute, it is necessary to view the enactment in retrospect, the reasons for enacting it, the evils it was to end and the object it was to sub-serve. The Act has, therefore, to be viewed as a whole and its intention determined by construing all the construing parts of the Act together and not by taking detached section as to take one word here and another there.[8]

Mischief Rule

The judiciary uses this concept to define the purpose of the legislatures. These are aimed at recognising the error and flaw in the law and hence arranging for redress. This rule’s primary benefit would be that it eliminates the gaps in the law and aims to enhance the rules. In order to guarantee the judicial process, this clause provides courts to adjust the application of the rules. This rule allows courts far more control and is appropriate for complicated situations.

In the case of Bengal Immunity Company v. State of Bihar, it was held that the mischief rule was applied to the construction of Article 286 of the Constitution of India, observing that it was to cure the mischief of multiple taxations and to preserve the free flow of the inter-state trade or commerce in the Union of India, regarded as one economic unit without any provincial barrier, that the Constitution makers adopted Article 286 in the Constitution. [9]



Internal Aids

  1. Title- First type of title is a short title that is provided with an intention of comparison and detection and the second type is a long title, the goal of which is to provide a concise summary of the purpose of the act.


  1. Preamble- This helps to understand the proper explanation of the Act and its provisions.


  1. Heading- Headings are just like a preamble that support the legislature’s perspective as a guide, but it does not govern the actual portion of the legislation.


  1. Marginal Notes- In a legislation, marginal notes are placed on the sides of the clauses, reflecting the consequence of the clause, but these are not part of the statute.


  1. Definitional Clauses- It identifies such phrases that are used elsewhere in the context of the legislation, to eliminate repetitions.


  1. Illustrations- In order to clarify the provision outlined in the clause, examples are affixed to a portion of a law.


  1. Proviso- A proviso has the usual purpose of excluding and dealing with a situation which would fall within the ordinary language of the primary statute, and its impact is limited to that situation.


  1. Explanations- The aim of the explanations is to clarify the meaning and purpose of the law, in the event of ambiguity or incoherence, and provide the objective with extra resources.


  1. Schedules- The schedule is a portion of the law specified at the end of the act. It includes details of how initiatives are formulated and includes topics in the context of lists.


  1. Punctuation- The punctuations are in the form of colon, semi-colon, comma, complete stop, dash, hyphen, brackets, etc.


  1. Saving Clause- In situations of revocation and reinterpretation of a new law, the Saving Clause is attached.


  1. Exception- In particular, exceptions are applied to a statute for the intention of precluding anything that actually falls beyond the meaning of the main clause.

 External Aids

  1. Dictionaries- The courts refer to the dictionary meaning of the legislation if a term used in the legislation is not specified or if it is specified, but the explanation is uncertain.


  1. Textbooks- The judge could refer to the appropriate textbooks to understand the essence while interpreting an Act.


  1. Statement of Objects and Reasons-  The statement of object and reasons are added to the legislation that defines the objects, intention and justification for the legislation.


  1. Constitutional Debates/Speeches- All the debates that had occurred in Parliament at the time of the creation of the Indian Constitution would be included.


  1. Legislative Debates/Speeches- These are made during the time frame of passing of a bill but are not enforceable since statements are often motivated by political pressure or are even inaccurate to depend on.


  1. Committee Reports- The issue is normally referred to a committee before the formulation of the legislation to examine it in depth and to make a report on the same.


  1. Foreign Laws and Decisions- When the jurisprudence of both nations would be the same, courts may resort to foreign laws and decisions.



Regular functioning of the judiciary requires interpretation of statutes as it is the responsibility of the courts to operate as per the real purpose of the legislation. To uphold the law and therefore to prevent travesty of justice, laws are therefore to be interpreted. But this should be discouraged and the one that promotes justice must be followed if any view ends in inequality, suffering, nuisance. In order to establish the basis for interpretation, various guidelines have been established and it is the judges’ decision to implement a better suitable law in the situation. There is a distinct justice branch for every sovereign state, and yet every legal system seeks to continue to provide justice for everyone. The primary responsibility of the judiciary, however, is to apply the rules in such a manner that they really guarantee fairness for everyone without any lack of clarity. In terms of the interpretation of laws, we have seen massive shifts. The shift from literal to intentional strategies seems to have had a huge influence on our judicial system. Parliament has approved regulations informing the justice department how statutes must be interpreted.   It is evident that while some advantages may arise from the purposeful strategy, its implementation carries with it considerable troubles and issues.


[1] Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Edition.

[2] Interpretation of Statutes, available at : ( last visited on November 8, 2020).

[3] (2002) 4 SCC 297.

[4] AIR 1984 SC 684.

[5] Interpretation of Statutes, available at : ( last visited on November 8, 2020). 

[6] AIR 1971 SC 1519.

[7] (1973) 4 SCC 225.

[8] (1957) S.C.R. 754.

[9] AIR 1995 SC 661.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *