This article titled ‘Presumptions in Statutory Interpretation: An Overview.’ is written by Simran Kang and discusses the concept of presumptions in statutory interpretation. I. Introduction Interpretation cannons, also known as presumptions, exist in the interpretation of statutes, although they have nothing to do with evidence at all. To fill in the blanks left by the evidence, a presumption should… Read More »

This article titled ‘Presumptions in Statutory Interpretation: An Overview.’ is written by Simran Kang and discusses the concept of presumptions in statutory interpretation. I. Introduction Interpretation cannons, also known as presumptions, exist in the interpretation of statutes, although they have nothing to do with evidence at all. To fill in the blanks left by the evidence, a presumption should be permitted. A presumption is a belief that something is likely true. The act...

This article titled ‘Presumptions in Statutory Interpretation: An Overview.’ is written by Simran Kang and discusses the concept of presumptions in statutory interpretation.

I. Introduction

Interpretation cannons, also known as presumptions, exist in the interpretation of statutes, although they have nothing to do with evidence at all. To fill in the blanks left by the evidence, a presumption should be permitted.

A presumption is a belief that something is likely true. The act of assuming, assuming or envisioning that something is true is what we mean by the term “presumption”. The language used by the legislature is assumed to convey its objective.[2]

Interpretation is a procedure through which one arrives at the genuine and correct intention of the law-making body which is laid in the form of statutes. This assists in finding out the aim of the author. And to identify the intention of a legislature there are some presumptions as to legislative interpretation.

II. Statutes are valid

The term ‘presumption of constitutionality’ is a legal principle that courts utilise when interpreting and applying laws approved by the Parliament.

Justice K Ramaswamy in the case of ML Kamra v. New India Assurance,[3] stated that “the court ought not to interpret the statutory provisions unless compelled by their language, in such a manner as would involve their unconstitutionality, since the legislature of the rulemaking authority is presumed to enact a law which does not contravene or violate the constitutional provisions”.

As a result, unless it appears to infringe the fundamental rights protected by Part III of the Constitution, legislation and statutory rules are presumed to be constitutional. In cases where the reading of a statute or rule is consistent with the Constitution, but another view would make it unconstitutional, a court would lean in favour of the first interpretation.”

Supreme Court in a 1998 case observed that it is a core concept that Statute and Rule or Regulation must be regarded to be legally valid unless and until it is proven they violate any specific provision of the Constitution.'” Furthermore, it is the obligation of the Court to interpret any Act, Rule, or Regulation in such a way as to preserve the provisions rather than to strike them down outright.”

In cases where the Constitution has been flagrantly violated, the assumption does not stand. Justice U. Banerjee in the case of Githa Hariharan v. RBI,[4] said that “every effort should be made to keep legislation in the statute book rather than scrap it, and it is only in the event of gross violations of constitutional sanctions that law courts would be within their jurisdiction to declare a legislative enactment as an invalid piece of legacies.”

There are limits to how far the Presumption of Constitutionality Doctrine can be applied. While trying to find an interpretation that keeps the statutory requirements intact, this Court has consistently adopted a policy of not imposing its own meaning on words used by legislators.[5]

III. Statutes are territorial in operation

Every person, thing, act, and event under the jurisdiction of a legislature is covered by a law passed by that legislature. In other places, it doesn’t apply to anyone or anything. Anyone trying to pass an extra-territorial law will have it invalidated to the extent that they try.

Constitutional Article 245 (1) authorises Parliament to adopt legislation for all or any portion of India’s territory and allows state legislatures to enact laws for all or any portion of their jurisdiction. Article 245 (2) states that no law passed by the Parliament can be ruled illegal because it would have an effect outside of the country’s borders.

Consequently, the extraterritorial effect of a law passed by Parliament cannot be contested in Indian courts. As a result, a State legislature’s law may be challenged on the grounds of the extra-territorial application. However, there is no analogous provision in favour of laws established by federal or state legislatures.

Legislation is believed to be territorial in nature. Because of this, the presumption is that legislation passed by a legislature solely affects its own jurisdiction. “Any person…” cannot be taken to mean any individual in any corner of the world, but to any person who is under the legislative jurisdiction.[6]

While it is generally true that a law can only be applied within the jurisdiction of the legislature that passed it, there is one notable exception to this rule. For an extra-territorial application of state law to be legal, there must be an adequate connection between the state and its subject matter. It is possible for a state’s law to be upheld by courts of another state.

It is worth noting that only if the territorial nexus can be proven can a state legislature’s statute be awarded extra-territorial impact. There must be an actual connection between the nexus and the responsibility sought.[7]

As seen in State of Bombay v. R.M. D. Chamarbaugwala,[8] wherein, a corporation incorporated in the State of Mysore operated crosswords reward competitions through agents and depots established in the state of Bombay and by disseminating a newspaper in the state of Bombay.

The state of Mysore was responsible for printing and distributing the newspaper. On the basis of territorial nexus, the tax imposed by the Bombay legislature was found to be lawful by the court.

Unless explicitly stated in the legislation, interpretations of statutes that limit the courts’ jurisdiction are generally presumed to be wrong. Unless the legislator explicitly states otherwise or uses unambiguous language or implied meanings, courts are believed to have jurisdiction over the objects of the law.[9]

IV. Presumption as to jurisdiction

Only legislation can restrict a court’s jurisdiction. The parties to a dispute cannot create or remove the jurisdiction of a court by mutual consent if a court has jurisdiction in the subject. Parties can, however, appoint an arbitrator by mutual accord, and the arbitrator may be a judge as well.

Provisions exempting civil courts from jurisdiction and giving authority to agencies and tribunals other than civil courts are interpreted in strict accordance with this norm.

The theory that civil courts are courts of general jurisdiction and that the people have a right to insist on free access to the courts of general jurisdiction of the State unless expressly or implicitly debarred underlies the rule that the exclusion of civil court jurisdiction is not readily inferable.[10]

The idea applies to all courts of general jurisdiction, not only civil courts, and includes criminal courts as well. Only if the vesting and the exercise of that restricted jurisdiction are clear and operative and there is suitable apparatus for the exercise of the limited jurisdiction can regular criminal courts be excluded from the limited area of jurisdiction.

If there are two or more reasonable interpretations of the statute’s language, the rule against excluding courts from proceedings is only applicable if the legislative intent is clear and apparent to remove jurisdiction.[11]

V. Presumption against what is inconvenient or absurd

If a statute is unclear or ambiguous or available to more than one interpretation, the interpretation that avoids unintended consequences should be accepted. The legislature is presumed to never intend for its enactments to cause public inconvenience or private hardship.

A reasonable and useful interpretation of enactments is always believed to reflect the intent of the legislature, even if their design is unclear or not specifically stated.

It is because of this that the Courts, with the presumption of ambiguity in mind, will give greater weight to arguments that aim at eliminating the inconvenient and ludicrous from a law’s language or wording.[12]

However, if the statute’s purpose is clear and unambiguous and there is no room for an argument based on inconvenience, it is invalid. To put it another way, when a statute’s contents are unambiguous and can only be interpreted in one way, only the legislature can alleviate the trouble it causes.[13]

VI. Presumption against intending injustice

Laws passed by elected officials should be taken as a sign that they are honest, fair, and reasonable since this is what society expects. Thus, justice and reason are the primary legislative aims of all legislation. In order for this to be regarded as an accurate representation of the legislative intent, it must be proven that this is not the case.[14]

VII. Presumption against impairing obligation or permitting advantage from one’s own wrong

A statute does not repeal other statutes. Any point on which a statute leaves a gap or omission is outside the scope of the statute. They do not alter the existing common law. If a statute is capable of interpretations, one involving alteration of common law and the other one not, the latter interpretation is to be preferred.[15]

VIII. Prospective operation of statutes

With regard to legislation, the dictionary definition of the word “prospective” demonstrates that it is concerned with or applies the laws in the future, or at least from the date of the statute’s passage. To note, the Supreme Court of India first developed the doctrine of ‘prospective overruling’ in I.C. Golak Nath v. Punjab.[16] In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Parliament had no authority to alter the fundamental rights of the people.

While a majority of states in the Union must ratify amendments to less significant Articles of the Constitution, Chief Justice Subba Rao asked how a fundamental right could be abrogated without this requirement when Parliament cannot affect fundamental rights by enacting a bill under its ordinary legislative process, even if it does so unanimously. That word “law,” according to the erudite judge, refers to both ordinary law and the Constitution.

As a result, the state was unable to alter the constitution to remove or limit a fundamental right because ‘law’ includes ‘amendment’. As a result of this, the five learned judges agreed that the principle would only apply in the future and that it would not have any effect on existing rights.

The term ‘prospective overruling’ was coined because of this. There was no power for Parliament to modify any of the constitutionally protected fundamental rights in Part III after that date, because of a Supreme Court judgement.[17]

The Supreme Court has restricted the application of this principle is:

  1. The principle is to be used in constitutional matters alone.
  2. Supreme Court alone holds the authority to impose this principle.
  3. The scope of prospectively to be imposed is the discretion of the court and can be altered as per the matter before it.

As a result, the notion of prospective overruling recognises the Supreme Court’s involvement in both law and policy formation. The scope of this idea is likewise somewhat limited in that it has only been used in the context of constitutional reform.

Overruling a decision will not affect transactions made before the overturned decision, but it will apply to future transactions based on the original decision. If legislation is found to be unconstitutional by a court, it will have no effect on past transactions or vested rights, but it can still be used to regulate future ones, or those occurring after the law is found to be unconstitutional.[18]


References

[2] B.M. Gandhi, Interpretation of Statutes, Second Edition, Eastern Book Company.

[3] (1992) AIR 1072.

[4] (1999) 2 SCC 228.

[5] Om Marathe, 2020, Explained: The Presumption of Constitutionality in the case of new citizenship law, The Indian Express.

[6] Presumption as to Territorial Jurisdiction, Indian Institute of Legal Studies.

[7] Yash Dewan and Shanya Shukla, Doctrine of Territorial Nexus in the Contemporary Legal World, International Journal of Law Management and Humanities.

[8] (1957) AIR 699.

[9] Supra Note 6.

[10] John H. Knox, 2010, A presumption against Extra – Jurisdictionality, JSTOR.

[11] Supra Note 1.

[12] Supra Note 1.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Supra Note 1.

[15] B.M. Gandhi, Interpretation of Statutes, Second Edition, Eastern Book Company.

[16] (1967) SC 1643.

[17] Ibid.

[18] B.M. Gandhi, Interpretation of Statutes, Second Edition, Eastern Book Company. See also: Prospective and Retrospective Operations of Statutes, Meerut College.org


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 2021-12-15T12:50:33+05:30
Simran Kang

Simran Kang

Symbiosis Law School, Pune

Next Story