AUTHOR- Rahul Verma, Law Centre- 1, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.

The word ‘Interpretation’ is derived from the Latin term ‘interpretari’ which means to explain or expound or to understand or translate. Interpretation is a process through which one arrives at the true and correct intention of the law-making body which is laid in the form of statutes. This helps in finding out the intention of the author.

Interpretation of any data generally means to analyze the available data and come out with an opinion which is certain and clear. This increases the ability of an individual to understand and explain it in his/her own way. This helps to find out the ways to understand and analyse the statute, where it leads the interpreter to the whole new meaning which is completely different from the general meaning.

It is necessary for all law students, lawyers, judges and anyone who belongs to the legal fraternity to know how to interpret the statute whenever a legislative house comes up with the new statute or an amendment because they will be dealing with these legislations on day to day basis. The main intention of analyzing is to know the new changes which are being brought due to the legislation and the impacts of that legislation in society.

Usually, the interpretation of the statute is done by the judges, it is the primary function of the judge as a judicial head. As we all know that our government is divided into three important wings which are: Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. Here legislature lays down the law and intends people to act according to the legislature and the judiciary that is judges will come up with the proper meaning of the law and puts the law into operation. This helps in maintaining checks and balances between the wings.

Need for interpretation:

1. The ambiguity of the words used in the statute: Sometimes there will be words that have more than one meaning. And it may not be clear which meaning has to be used. There could be multiple interpretations made out of it.

2. Change in the environment: We all know that society changes from time to time and there may be new developments happening in a society that is not taken into consideration, this lacks the predictability of the future event.

3. Complexities of the statutes: usually statutes are complex and huge, it contains complicated words, jargon and some technical terms which are not easy to understand and this complexity may lead to confusion.

4. When legislation doesn’t cover a specific area: Every time when legislations are out it doesn’t cover all the area it leaves some grey areas and interpretation helps in bridging the gaps between.

5. Drafting error: The draft may be made without sufficient knowledge of the subject. It may also happen due to the lack of necessary words and correct grammar. This makes the draft unclear and creates ambiguity in the legislature.

6. Incomplete rules: There are few implied rules and regulations and some implied powers and privileges which are not mentioned in the statute and when these are not defined properly in the statute this leads to ambiguity.

Rules of Interpretation:

Arbitrariness is not expected from the court while interpreting a statute and thus certain principles are by the courts through continuous exercise. Thus, principles are sometimes called rules of interpretation.

v The literal or grammatical rule of interpretation:

According to the rule, the words of an enactment are to be given their ordinary and natural meaning. If such a meaning is clear, effect should be given to the provisions of the statute whatever may be the consequences. The basis of this principle is that the object of the interpretation being to know what the legislation intended, whatever was the intention of the legislature has been expressed by it through words which are to be interpreted through the rules of grammar. This is the safest rule because the intention of the legislature can be inferred directly from the language in which it has been expressed itself. If the language of the statute is plain, the only duty of the court is to give effect to it and the court has no business to look into the consequences of such interpretation.

Ø Literal Rule:

The literal rule basically looks into what the law says, not what the law means. It considers the original meaning of the word. Here judges cannot come up with the words and interpret according to the case basis. When the language used is simple and the words have only one meaning to it at that time judges will use this literal rule of interpretation.

When there are no two meanings to a word. This rule helps courts from taking sides in legislative or political issues. If any word in the statute has a special meaning to it, usually it will be mentioned in the interpretation clause, all technical words are given ordinary meaning if the statute has not specified it. Usage of the appropriate words is very important and makes a lot of difference in the meaning of the context.

Courts should never go beyond the intention of the legislators. When the words of the statute are in themselves precise and unambiguous, then there is no need of explaining that in the natural or ordinary sense.

Pritipal Singh V. Union Of India:

There was the criminal case was against the defendant, the charge sheet was filed as per the violations and provisions under the ‘Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985’ and the interpretation of words was in question. The court emphasized the literal rule of interpretation.

It was held that there is a presumption that the words which are used in the statutes are correct and exact and it is inappropriately made.[1]

Ø The Mischief Rule:

The mischief rule originated in Heydon’s case in 1584. In this case, it was held that for sure and true interpretation of all statutes, in general, 4 things are to be considered which are:

· The law before the act?

· The mischief for which common law did not provide?

· Remedy appointed by the legislature for the cue of the defect; and

· Reason behind the remedy?

After this consideration, it is the duty of all the judges to make such interpretation as shall supress the mischief and advance the remedy.

It is a kind of statutory interpretation where it attempts to determine the intention of the legislators , the main objective of this is to find out the mischief and defect of the previous statute which was in question and how the new statute will come up with the remedy that resolves the defect.

The main purpose of bringing the amendments in the statute is to add on additional areas or to make certain changes in the existing law and make it wider where it covers many other circumstances. Legislating a new law is to resolve the problem which was unable to resolve through the other laws which were existing before. And this also helps in finding out the answers to those questions which were not answered in the previous law. So here we can observe the retrospective effect in the process of making laws.

This rule is also called as purposive construction as there is a purpose behind making this ruling. Here court attempts to know the intention of the legislators for bringing in the change in the law. It also tries to analyze the mischief and the defect which was present in the previous law which leads to the creation of the new law.

Bengal immunity co. V. State of Bihar, 1955:

In this case, they have applied the mischief rule in the construction of Article 286 of the constitution of India. Article 286 was in question because before the implementation of this section every state had its own powers and privileges to make its own laws regarding taxation. But the supreme court said that article 286 is made in order to regulate the interstate taxation system and to maintain a well-organized taxation system. And make the whole of India as one economic unit.

Here Supreme Court has looked into the history of article 286 and also the reasoning behind it by considering both of it they have interpreted the statute by mischief rule[2]

Ø The Golden Rule:

The golden rule is the modification of the principle of grammatical interpretation. It says that ordinarily the court must find out the intention of the legislature ‘from the words used in the statute’ by giving them their natural meaning but if this leads to absurdity, repugnance, inconvenience, hardship, injustice or evasion, the court must modify the meaning to such an extent and no further as would prevent such a consequence.

The Golden rule is also called as British rule of interpretation, it is a form of statutory interpretation which allows a judge to depart from a normal meaning of the word in order to avoid an absurd result, in order to overcome these kinds of results judges will give an opportunity to the lawyer to come up with the new interpretation to the law which will be more certain and accurate to the case.

This method of interpretation is also known as the compromise method between literal rule and the mischief rule. In the literal rule, judges will only use the word meaning nothing else, but sometimes this may be irrational and gives us unexpected results which will be unlikely to the legislator’s intention.

In the case of homographs, where a word can have more than one meaning, the judge can choose the meaning which is suitable at that particular case if the word only has only one meaning, but applying that would lead to a bad decision where the judge can apply that decision and arrive at a completely different meaning.

This rule is used in two main situations:

1. When the meaning of the word is too narrow.

2. When the word itself has ambiguity or absurdity.

Uttar Pradesh Bhoodan Yagna Samiti v. Brij Kishore:

The Supreme Court held that the expression “landless person” used in Section 14 of the ‘U.P. Bhoodan Yagna Act, 1953,’ which made provision for grant of land to landless persons, was limited to “landless labourers”. Landless labour is he who is engaged in agriculture but having no agricultural land.

The Court further said that “any landless person” did not include a landless businessman residing in a city. The object of the Act was to implement the Bhoodan movement, which aimed at the distribution of land to landless labourers who were verged in agriculture. A businessman, though landless cannot claim the benefit of Act[3]


Every nation has its own judicial system, the purpose of which to grant justice to all. The court aims to interpret the law in such a manner that every citizen is ensured justice to all. To ensure justice to all the concept of canons of interpretation was expounded. These are the rules which are evolved for determining the real intention of the legislature.

It is not necessary that the words used in a statute are always clear, explicit and unambiguous and thus, in such cases it is very essential for courts to determine a clear and explicit meaning of the words or phrases used by the legislature and at the same time remove all the doubts if any. Hence, all the rules mentioned in the article are important for providing justice.

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