Why are rules of interpretation required

  1. Why Are Rules Of Interpretation Required By The Courts?

The legislative function of the state is carried out by the legislature. The legislature of the body politic enacts laws required for regulating conduct of people living in the society. The executive branch of the government implements those laws enacted by the legislature. While implementing laws there may be disputes between executives and citizens. The disputes are to be settled by the judiciary.

While deciding disputes between the executive and the citizen or between citizens, the court has to apply the laws enacted by the legislature. The laws enacted by the legislature are conveyed to the people through the medium of words. The words used in the statute may be ambiguous. If there is ambiguity the judges or citizens cannot approach the legislature for getting clarification as to what is meant by a particular provision or a word used in the statute. It is the duty of the judges to find out the real meaning of a particular provision in the statute. In order to find out the real meaning of a particular provision, the judge has to apply certain rules. These rules are called “Rules of Interpretation or Canons of Construction”.

The process by which the courts of law try to ascertain or understand the meaning of the legislation through the wording of enactment is technically called interpretation. The aim of interpretation is to find out the legislative intention.

The judiciary interprets how legislation should apply in a particular case as no legislation unambiguously and specifically addresses all matters. Legislation may contain uncertainties for a variety of reasons:

  • Words are imperfect symbols to communicate intent. They are ambiguous and change in meaning over time.
  • Unforeseen situations are inevitable, and new technologies and cultures make application of existing laws difficult.
  • Uncertainties may be added to the statute in the course of enactment, such as the need for compromise or catering to special interest groups.

Therefore, the court must try to determine how a statute should be enforced. This requires statutory construction. It is a tenet of statutory construction that the legislature is supreme (assuming constitutionality) when creating law and that the court is merely an interpreter of the law. In practice, by performing the construction the court can make sweeping changes in the operation of the law.

  1. The Golden (And Purposive) Rules

The ‘golden rule of Interpretation' was stated by Lord Wensleydale in Grey v pearson. The ‘golden rule of Interpretation' is a modification of Literal Rule of Interpretation. The Golden Rule enables the court to modify the language of statute if it is found that the literal interpretation would result in absurdity or inconvenience or injustice.

According to Wensleydale in interpreting statutes, the grammatical and ordinary sense of the word is to be taken by the judge and if this approach leads to some absurdity or some repugnance or inconsistence; the grammatical or the ordinary sense of the words may be modified in order to avoid the absurdity or repugnance or inconsistency. It shall not go further.

The ‘golden rule of Interpretation' propounded by Wensleydale states that, while interpreting statutes, the court has to adopt literal or grammatical interpretation. If the words in the statute lead to absurdity, repugnancy or inconsistency, the court can modify the words for the purpose of avoiding such absurdity, repugnancy or inconsistency but no further.

In lee v. Knapp ‘ the road traffic Act' required the drivers of motor vehicles to stop the vehicle after an accident. In this case the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident stopped the vehicle for a moment and driven away. The court held that, if ‘literal rule of interpretation' is followed, the driver is not responsible since he has stopped the vehicle after the accident. But following the ‘literal rule' would lead to absurdity and injustice. In order to avoid the absurdity, the court held that the driver of motor vehicle shall stop means that the driver of the vehicle shall stop and remain there for such sufficient period of time so as to enable authorities who have a right to collect sufficient information about the accident. The court thus adopted Golden Rule of interpretation and modified the language of the statute inured to avoid absurdity.

In Day v. Simpson the Theatre Act prescribed a penalty for the performance of plays without license on stage. A group of players performed the play in a chamber below the stage. The figures were reflected by mirrors so that it appeared to the spectators that the players are on the state. The court held that the players though not playing on the stage are bound to take license under the Act.

  1. Stare Decisis

Judicial Precedent is an important source of law. A ‘Precedent' means a previous decision of court of law. It is a judicial decision which contains in itself a ‘legal principle' or ‘law'. It is cited as an authority for the legal principle embodied in it.

Judicial precedents have high authority in England and other countries which have been influenced by English (Anglo-Saxon) jurisprudence. The reason for the high place for judicial precedent in English legal system is that the English judges have occupied a very high position in the country. They have been eminent in their line and consequently their decisions have enjoyed high reputation. The vast majority of common law is almost entirely the product of decided cases. In England all the courts are bound to follow the law declared by the House of Lords.

In England the binding nature of precedent is established by the doctrine of ‘stare decisis'. The maxim means that a precedent which is long standing should not be disturbed. This doctrine added strength and respect to a precedent which stood for a pretty long time.

A long standing decision will not be disregarded or over-ruled. Over ruling is effected only in the case of a recent precedent. If older precendents are over-ruled by declaring it as incorrect or bad, it would cause grave inconvenience to the community. This is because the over-ruling may disappoint or disturb the legitimate expectations of the people; thus the doctrine of ‘stare decisis' has been observed by the courts.

The recent view of English courts is that undue respect need not be given to a long standing precedent which is doing injustice.

In Reg v. Button the English court over-ruled a precedent that stood for a century and a half. The court observed that lapse of a long time is not a good reason to continue a wrong principle. The doctrine of binding precedent or stare decisis is basic to the English legal system, and to the legal systems that derived from it such as those of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore and New Zealand. A precedent is a statement made of the law by a Judge in deciding a case. The doctrine states that within the hierarchy of the English courts a decision by a superior court will be binding on inferior courts. This means that when judges try cases they must check to see if similar cases have been tried by a court previously. If there was a precedent set by an equal or superior court, then a judge should obey that precedent. If there is a precedent set by an inferior court, a judge does not have to follow it, but may consider it. The House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) however does not have to obey its own precedents.

Only the statements of law are binding. This is known as the reason for the decision or ratio decidendi. All other reasons are "by the way" or obiter dictum. See Rondel v. Worsley. A precedent does not bind a court if it finds there was a lack of care in the original “Per Incuriam”. For example, if a statutory provision or precedent had not been brought to the previous court's attention before its decision, the precedent would not be binding. Also, if a court finds a material difference between cases then it can choose not to be bound by the precedent. Persuasive precedents are those that have been set by courts lower in the hierarchy. They may be persuasive, but are not binding. Most importantly, precedents can be overruled by a subsequent decision by a superior court or by an Act of Parliament.

Although inferior courts are bound in theory by superior court precedent, in practice judges may sometimes attempt to evade precedents by distinguishing them on spurious grounds. The appeal of a decision that does not obey precedent might not occur, however, as the expense of an appeal may prevent the losing party from doing so. Thus the inferior court decision may remain in effect even though it does not obey the superior court decision, as the only way a decision can enter the appeal process is by application of one of the parties bound by it.

  1. The Appeals Procedure From The Country Court In Civil Law?

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales is the second most senior court in the English legal system, with only the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom above it.

The Court is divided into two Divisions: the Civil Division and the Criminal Division. The Master of the Rolls presides over the Civil Division, with the Lord Chief Justice as his counterpart in the Criminal Division. The other permanent judges of the Court of Appeal are known as Lords Justices of Appeal. The court hears appeals from the High Court and, in criminal matters, the Crown Court, although there are rights of appeal to it from other courts and tribunals. Permission to appeal may be required from the court below or from the Court of Appeal itself.

Three judges, sitting as a panel, normally hear an appeal in the Court of Appeal, reaching a decision by a majority. A single Lord Justice of Appeal may hear applications for permission to appeal.

Because the volume of cases which come to the Court of Appeal is higher than come to the Supreme Court it has been said that the Master of the Rolls is the most influential judge in England. Certainly, the most famous judge in recent legal history, Lord Denning, was Master of the Rolls for many years, and played a major part in the development of the common law.

The Civil Division is presided over by the Master of the Rolls. It hears most civil appeals from decisions of the High Court and many from County Courts, as well as from certain tribunals, including:

  • Employment Appeal Tribunal
  • Lands Tribunal
  • Asylum and Immigration Tribunal after a decision made by a three member tribunal.

The Civil Division of the Court of Appeal was created by the Judicature Acts in 1875 as the Court of Appeal (criminal appeals being dealt with by the Court for Crown Cases Reserved). It merged the Court of Appeal in Chancery, a common law court of error (popularly known as a "court of appeal") and the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council in admiralty and ecclesiastical matters.

Appeal from a decision of the Civil Division may be made to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom with permission of either court.

  1. Secondary Aids To Interpretation

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.

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

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.

In construing old statutes, it has been customary to pay regard to the construction put upon them by the judges who lived at or soon after the time when the statutes were made because they were best able to judge of the intention of the makers at the time. In such cases a contemporaneous interpretation is the paramount and strongest in the law and ought to be adhered to unless it could be positively said that it was wrong and productive of inconveniences. The rule is that the words of a statute will be understood in the sense which they bore when it was passed. In other words, they are to be understood as used with reference to the subject matter in the intellect of the legislature and limited to it.



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