By | March 30, 2017
Natural Law

Last Updated :

[Laws enacted by the legislatures are interpreted by the judiciary. Their are internal aids to construction as well as external aids.]


Laws enacted by the legislatures are interpreted by the judiciary. Enacted laws, specially the modern Acts and Rules, are drafted by legal experts and it could be expected that the language will leave little room for interpretation or construction. But the experience of all who have to hear and share the task of application of law,  has been different. It is quite often observed that courts are busy unfolding the meaning of ambiguous words and expressions and resolving in consistencies. The age old process of the application of the enacted laws has led to formulation of certain rules of interpretation or construction.

The object of interpretation of statutes is to determine the intention of the legislature conveyed expressly or impliedly in the language used. In Santi swarup Sarkar v. pradeep kumar sarkar, the Supreme Court held that if two interpretations are possible of the same statute, the one which validates the statute must be preferred.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of interpretation:

  1. Literal Interpretation
  2. Logical Interpretation

Internal Aids of Interpretation are:-

A. Long Title

It is now settled that Long Title of an Act is a part of the Act and is admissible as an aid to its construction. The long title which often precedes the preamble must be distinguished with the short title; the former taken along with the preamble or even in its absence is a good guide regarding the object, scope or purpose of the Act, whereas the latter 341 being only an abbreviation for purposes of reference is not a useful aid to construction.

B. Preamble

The preamble of a statute like the long title is a part of the Act and is an admissible aid to construction. Although not an enacting part, the preamble is expected to express the scope, object and purpose of the Act more comprehensively than the long title. It may recite the ground and cause of making the statute, the evils sought to be remedied or the doubts which may be intended to be settled. In the words of SIR JOHN NICHOLL : It is to the preamble more specifically that we are to look for the reason or spirit of every statute, rehearsing this, as it ordinarily does, the evils sought to be remedied, or the doubts purported to be removed by the statute, and so evidencing, in the best and most satisfactory manner, the object or intention of the Legislature in making or passing the statute itself.

C. Preamble to Constitution

The Preamble of the Constitution like the Preamble of any statute furnishes the key to open the mind of the makers of the Constitution more so because the Constituent Assembly took great pains in formulating it so that it may reflect the essential features and basic objectives of the Constitution. The Preamble is a part of the Constitution The Preamble embodies the fundamentals underlining the structure of the Constitution. It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly after the entire Constitution has been adopted.

The true functions of the Preamble is to expound the nature and extend and application of the powers actually confirmed by the Constitution and not substantially to create them. The Constitution, including the Preamble, must be read as a whole and in case of doubt interpreted consistent with its basic structure to promote the great objectives stated in the preamble. But the Preamble can neither be regarded as the source of any substantive power nor as a source of any prohibition or limitation.

D. Headings

The view is now settled that the Headings or Titles prefixed to sections or group of sections can be referred to in construing an Act of the Legislature. But conflicting opinions have been expressed on the question as to what weight should be attached to the headings. A Heading, according to one view, is to be regarded as giving the key to the interpretation of the clauses ranged under it, unless the wording is inconsistent with such interpretation; and so the headings might be treated as preambles to the provisions following them.

E. Marginal Notes

In the older statutes marginal notes were not inserted by the legislature and hence were not part of the statute and could not be referred to for the purpose of construing the statute. If they are also enacted by the legislature they can be referred to for the purpose of interpretation. In the case of the Indian Constitution, the marginal notes have been enacted by the Constituent Assembly and hence they may be referred to for interpreting the Articles of the Constitution. If the words used in the enactment are clear and unambiguous, the marginal note cannot control the meaning, but in case of ambiguity or doubt, the marginal note may be referred to.

F. Punctuation

Punctuation means to mark with points and to make points with usual stops. It is the art of dividing sentences by point or mark. Is the Court entitled to use punctuation also while interpreting the statutes? Punctuation is considered as a minor element in the construction of statutes.

G. Illustrations

Illustrations appended to a section from part of the statute and although forming no part of the section, are of relevance and value in the construction of the text of the section and they should not be readily rejected as repugnant to the section. It would be the very last resort of construction to make this assumption. The great usefulness of the Illustrations which have, although not part of the sections, been expressly furnished by the Legislature as helpful in the working and application of the statute, should not be thus impaired.

H. Definition Section

These do not take away the ordinary and natural meaning of the words, but as used: (i) to extend the meaning of a word to include or cover something, which would not normally be covered or included; and (ii) to interpret ambiguous words and words which are not plain or clear.

I. Proviso

The proper function of a proviso is to except and to deal with a case which would otherwise fall within the general language of the main enactment and its effect is confined to that case. It is a qualification of the preceding enactment which is expressed in terms too general to be quite accurate. As a general rule, a proviso is added to an enactment to qualify or create an exception to what is in the enactment and ordinarily, a proviso is not interpreted as stating a general rule. Normally, a proviso does not travel beyond the provision to which it is a proviso. It craves out an exception to the main provision to which it has been enacted as a proviso and to no other.

J. Explanation

The object of an Explanation to a statutory provision is –

  1. to explanation the meaning and intendment of the Act itself,
  2. where there is any obscurity or vagueness in the main enactment, to clarify the same so as to make it consistent with the dominant object which it seems to subserve,
  3. to provide an additional support to the dominant object of the Act in order to make it meaningful and purposeful,
  4. an Explanation cannot in any way interfere with or change the enactment or any part thereof but where some gap is left which is relevant for the purpose of the Explanation, in order to suppress the mischief and advance the object of the Act it can help or assist the court in interpreting the true purport and intendment of the enactment, and
  5. it cannot, however, take away a statutory right with which any person under a statute has been clothed or set at naught the working of an Act by becoming an hindrance in the interpretation of the same.

Submitted by – Shradha Arora, CNLU Patna

(Editor @ Legal Bites)

Author: Mayank Shekhar

Mayank is a student at Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Under his leadership, Legal Bites has been researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, competitions, and seminars.