In India the power to make laws is given in the hands of the legislature. The court has the power to implement these laws and serve justice. There is a separation of power which means that courts cannot play the role of making laws and the legislature cannot play the role of courts. It is presumed that that the laws made by the legislature are clear and unambiguous. However in some case where the meaning of a provision is unclear then court has been given power to find the intention of the legislature to form a clear meaning. This brings the role of interpretation. Internal and External Aids are two forms of interpretation which helps courts in finding out intention of legislature.
Meaning of Interpretation
Interpretation means the process used to ascertain the meaning of the statute by ascertaining the intention of the legislature for the enactment of that statute. It is used in case the meaning of an enactment is unclear and there is a lot of ambiguity. If the meaning of the words in the enactment is clear then there is no need for interpretation.
Salmond says that “interpretation is the process by which court seeks to ascertain the meaning of legislature through medium of authoritative form in which it is expressed”.
Need of Interpretation
The need of interpretation only arises is cases where meaning of an enactment is not clear and is ambiguous. This is case where a particular enactment gives more than one meaning. So by interpretation we can find the true meaning of enactment. This helps us in finding iut the true intention of the legislature.
The court has their own discretion while interpretation but they should focus only in finding out the intention of legislature and should not change the meaning of an enactment according to their own thinking. This helps in achieving the justice and helps in finding the logical meaning to an enactment.
The internal aids to interpretation are those which may be contained in the statute itself forming a part of it or may not form the part of the statute. They are generally taken as important aid to interpretation whenever there is ambiguity in the language of the statute and meaning of the words are not clear. However they have no role to play in case where meaning of the statute is clear. They are much more valuable than external aid to interpretation.
Some important internal aid to interpretation are-
The role of the title is to give some description of the act. It can further be divided into two parts-
- Short Title
It generally does have any role to play in the interpretation and noting can be ascertained from it. It only gives us the name of the act and nothing else.
For eg. The Transfer of Property Act, 1882 ,Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 etc.
- Long Title
It can some use in case where there is the confusion in the meaning of the statute. It tells us about the general object for which the act has been enacted more like preamble only.
For eg. The Transfer of Property Act, 1882 has a long title saying that-“An Act to amend the law relating the Transfer of Property by act of parties”.
ManoharLal v. State of Punjab
It this case it was observed that the scope of the act can be decided with the help of the long title and help can be taken from it for interpretation.
KedarNath v. State of West Bengal
It this case court took the help of the long title while interpreting Section 4 of West Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1949 and held that it is the discretion of the State government to try any offence under special procedure in special courts.
The preamble is very useful aid to interpretation as it tells us about the true intention of the legislature for which the act was enactment. It roles comes into play in case where the meaning of the enactment is not clear and more than one meaning is formed but not otherwise.
It doesn’t extend the scope of an enactment nor does it restrict it. Courts in the past had taken help from the preamble for interpretation however its role has decreased in the recent times.
For eg.- The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 has preamble saying that “Whereas it is expedient to consolidate, define and amend the law of Evidence; it is hereby enacted as follows”.
Brett v. Brett
In this case it was observed that preamble can be used to find the intention of the legislature. It forms the spirit of the act. It tells us about all the mischiefs that the legislature wants to remove.
Rashtriya Mill MazdoorSangh v. NTC
It was observed that preamble help can only be taken when a provision is ambiguous. When a provision is clear then preamble help cannot be taken for expanding or restricting the scope of a provision.
They are inserted generally at the side of the sections and have no useful role to play interpretation. Most of the time it have been seen that they have not made by the people who have enacted the provision and are added in the subsequent stages by other people other than legislators. Courts have refrained from using them for interpretation.
It only excludes the things from the particular section or provision which would otherwise would have been included in it. It has no other role to play neither it extends the meaning or scope of the section. It is restricted only to the section to which it is part and cannot have effect on other provisions.
For eg.- Section 55 of The Code of Civil procedure, 1908 tells about arrest and detention but has some proviso to it such as no arrest can take place after sunset or before sunrise, no out door of dwelling house should be broken etc.
CIT v. Ajax Products Ltd.
It was observed that the proviso restricts the main provision, however it doesn’t have its own independent existence and is dependent upon the provision to which it is attached. It should not be read in conflict with the main provision.
S. SundaramPillai v. V.R. Pattabiraman
In this it was observed that proviso exclude certain things from the main provision. It is an integral part of the provision and can impose conditions on it.
Heading are put up at the start of the group of sections relating to a particular offence or procedure. Each chapter in an act consists if its own heading which act as a preamble to it.
For eg.- The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 Chapter VII has a Heading of “Burden of Proof” which tells us the various aspects of burden of proof.
It is useful is cases where the meaning of the provision is not clear but where there is no ambiguity then it has no role to play. It is as useful as preamble for interpretation of provisions to which it is headed.
Iqbal Singh Marwahv.MeenakshiMarwah
It was observed that headings cannot be used for interpretation when the meaning of a provision is clear. However the still form an important part of the act and are treated as the preambles to the provisions to which it is headed.
Explanations are added to sections so that they can clarify the meaning of certain words in which uncertainty may arise in future. They do not extend the scope of the section to which it is attached and is restricted to that section only to which it is part. They do not have much role in interpretation and only clarify the provision.
Bengal Immunity Company v. State of Bihar
It was observed that the exception should not extend the meaning of the main provision. It should be read with the main provision. It forms the part of the main provision so it can be used for ascertaining the intention of the legislature.
Exceptions and Saving Clauses
Exceptions are created to exclude certain things from a particular provision which would otherwise the part of it. They do not expand the scope the scope of section nor add any different meaning to the words. They just take away certain things from a particular provision.
For eg.- Section 300 of Indian Penal Code specifies exception to murder which are murder done by exercising right of private defence, murder under grave and sudden provocation etc.
Saving clause on the other hand is generally appended where there is a case of repeal and re-enactment.
Illustrations are generally given in the form of examples including situations that occur in real life. They do not form the part of an enactment but still they are very useful aid to interpretation. They can help us in understanding the real meaning of an enactment in case where there is some uncertainty. They illustrate the intention of the legislature in the form of facts and gives answer to situations arising in those facts. It cannot extend the meaning of an enactment.
Dagdu v. State of Maharashtra
There has always been a conflict between the illustration (b) of Section 114 and Section 133 of the Evidence Act. Section 133 says that accomplice evidence without corroboration is good enough for conviction whereas Section 114 Illustration (b) says that accomplice evidence without corroboration is not good enough for conviction.
General rule on this formed by the court is that it is always better to have the evidence of accomplice corroborated with other evidence for conviction.
Generally we take the ordinary meaning of the words while determining the meaning of the words given in the enactment. However in some cases where the definition given by the legislatures forms different meaning of the words other than the ordinary meaning. In such cases the definition given by the legislatures has to be usedand it will override the ordinary meaning.
Mohan Singh v. International Airport Authority of India
It was observed that generally the word “shall” is meant to be mandatory in nature. However court should focus that ends of justice and for it “shall” can be read as “may”. It depends from case to case. Discretion should be applied by the court in fair manner according to the circumstance of the case.
It helps in the working of an enactment properly and it forms the part of the enactment. When meaning of an enactment is not clear help can be taken from it to ascertain the meaning.
It doesn’t have much of a role to play in the interpretation and is not taken as useful tool to ascertain the meaning of an enactment. The role played by it is to separate the sentences and nothing else.
External Aid to Interpretation
The role of external aids to interpretation comes into play in case where internal aid fails. Internal aid is considered more valuable in interpretation as compared to the external aid. External aid are doesn’t form a part of the enactment itself like some internal aid and neither they are connected to any specific provision.
However in some cases where internal aid fails, help can be taken from external aids to ascertain the intention of the legislature as generally they talk about the history of an enactment and reasons for its introduction.
B. PrabhakarRao v. State of Andhra Pradesh
In this case it was observed that external aid comes into play only when the internal aid fails but not otherwise. It is for the purpose of the justice the external aids should be used. Legislative history, committee reports, debates etc may be considered for the same.
Some important external aids are-
Whenever the meaning of a particular word is not clear the help may be taken from the dictionaries by the court to ascertain the meaning of the word. No strict approach is used in ascertaining the meaning. The ordinary meaning of the word can to be found with the use of dictionary.
Alamghir v. State of Bihar
In this case the interpretation of Article 498 of Indian Penal Code was done. The word “detain” was under consideration. It was accompanied by other words such as takes or entices or conceals. Now in ordinary sense the word detain would mean without consent of the person detained. But the court observed that Section 498 protect the interests of husband. So, detain would include the case of taking away the wife from her husband even with her consent.
Statement of Object and Reasons
This is not considered as a reliable source to interpretation. It tells us about the reasons and intention for bringing the bill into the legislature. However after the bill has been introduced it still have to be passed by both the houses due to which there is always a chance that the bill gets changed along with its intention at certain point of time. Bill goes through many processes before it gets passed, so the intention at the start for introducing the bill cannot be relied upon. It also does not show the will of majority.
Thus, if the meaning of a provision is clear then it has no role to play but if it a case where the meaning is ambiguous then only some help can be taken from it to ascertain the intention of the legislature.
State of West Bengal v. Union of India
In this it was observed that when the bill is brought in the Parliament it consist of some statement of objects and reasons which can be used to understand the background of the Act and can only be used in a limited sense. It cannot be relied upon as an aid to interpretation and it doesn’t tell legislative intention.
Parliamentary History and Facts
This includes all the debates in the parliament, reports of committees, letters etc. In traditional English practise it was considered that parliamentary history cannot be considered while interpretation. The modern view is different which says that parliamentary history and facts may be considered for interpretation in order to determine the intention of the legislature while passing an act. However it can also be used in case of ambiguity and not in case where meaning of a provision is clear.
Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India
In this case it was observed that the Parliament history may be considered for the purpose of the interpretation in case where the meaning of a provision is not clear.
It contains the following things-
They are generally not considered as useful tool to interpretation. Courts refrain from using the reports for interpretation. However in some cases where ambiguity arises in a provision then court can refer these reports which are formed by committees which advices the legislature at the passing of an act. They can help in determining the intention of the legislature.
G. Sekar v. Geetha
In this case the court observed that the reports such as of Law Commission of India can be considered for interpretation if a provision in ambiguous.
- Parliamentary Debates
These include the debates that take place in the legislature while passing of the act. In case of ambiguity these can be used by the courts for interpretation to determine the reasons for which the act was passed and the mischief which the legislature wanted to cure.
S.R. Chaudhuri v. State of Punjab and Ors
In this case the debates of the Constituent Assembly were taken into consideration for the determination of provisions. It was stated that through it the intention of the legislature can be ascertained.
This contains the stage of debate before passing of the act by the minister. However this is not considered as reliable form of interpretation because the bill goes through a lot of amendments once it goes through both the houses in parliament and neither it shows the will of majority. So only some help can be taken from it.
Sometimes courts while determining a law takes help from the textbooks. But this view has been criticized because textbook contains the personal views of the author and different textbooks have different opinions. Personal views of the author cannot tell us about the intention of the legislature. Thus is not a reliable source of interpretation.
In case when there is uncertainty regarding a point on law then reference can be taken from the foreign decisions, where there is same system of law is being followed on that point of uncertainty as it is followed in India. They will have a binding force upon the Indian courts.
Economic, Scientific, Political and Social Changes
Today’s environment is more dynamic than before due to which lot of development and changes occur as time passes by. Many situations are not anticipated by the legislature at the time of passing of the act which may arise in future due to these changes. Thus, enough discretion and flexibility is given to courts to interpret according to the needs of the present environment while seeing these changes.
S.P. Gupta v. Union of India
In this case it was observed that the interpretation of a enactment must always take according the dynamic environment so that justice can be served and judges must adapt to the changes in the environment.
We can conclude that the need of interpretation arises only when then ambiguity in a provision and not otherwise. While interpretation we determine the intention of the legislature. After considering all the aids to interpretation we can conclude that internal aid of interpretation is more reliable source of interpretation than the external aid to interpretation. Internal aid forms the part of the enactment whereas external aid is separate from the provision. Internal aids are considered as first option for interpretation and when they fails only then external aids come into play.
- Prof. T. Bhattacharya, The Interpretation of Statutes, Central Law Agency, 8th Edition, 2012
Q1. What do we mean by term “interpretation”? Why is there a need of interpretation?
Q2. Define Internal Aids to interpretation?
Q3. What is the role of preamble in interpretation?
Q4. Define External Aids to Interpretation?
Q5. Compare Internal and External Aids to Interpretation?
AIR 1961 SC 418
 1964 AC 210 (HL)
 (1826) 162 ER 456
 AIR 1996 SC 710
AIR 1965 SC 1358
 AIR 1985SC 582
 AIR 2005 SC 2119
 AIR 1955 SC 661
 AIR 1977 SC 1579
(1997) 9 SCC 132
 AIR 1986 SC 210
 AIR 1956 SC 436
 AIR 1963 SC 124
 AIR 1958 SC 578
 AIR 2009 SC 2649
 Appeal (civil) 244/1997
 AIR 1982 SC 149