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Internal Aids To Interpretation

Introduction

The statute is a set of guidelines for the individuals of a society. They are codified in nature. But sometimes, certain provisions seem to have more than one meaning. These meanings could be conflicting in nature. Hence, they serve as the root cause of disputes between the parties. Therefore, such discrepancies need to be sorted in the quickest manner to prevent such confusion and conflicts in society.

Aid means ‘to help’ or ‘to assist’. These are the devices that help in our task(s). So, whenever there is a dispute or conflict regarding understanding any provision or statute, the judiciary seeks help from various aids. These are the devices that help to understand the true meaning of the statute. These aids could be – Internal or external.

Internal aids to interpretation are those devices that are present within the statute. No external references are required to interpret the meaning. Various in-texts (within the statute) are sufficient to interpret it. On the contrary, sometimes external references are also used to understand the true meaning of a particular disputed provision(s). These are references as termed as ‘external aids’.

The Supreme Court enjoys advisory jurisdiction as per Article 143 of the Indian constitution. Similarly, High Courts are often referred to when a substantial question of law is involved in a case. Judiciary uses these aids to solve the ambiguity related to the interpretation of statutes.

Internal Aids under Interpretation of Statute

1. Title

i. Short Title

It addresses the name of the act followed by the year of its enactment. Such titles do not include any description. They do not play any role in the interpretation of the act. Despite being an essential part of any statute, these do not carry a specific meaning. These are just the names of the acts.

Example: Indian Contract Act 1872, Indian Penal Code 1860, etc.

ii. Long Title

Such titles address the name of the Act along with its short description. It addresses the general object of that Act. Long titles could be used for the interpretation of the provisions under them. These serve as crucial internal aids interpretation. They are used for resolving the conflicts arising out of ambiguous terms in that Act.  However, if the words in the statute are unambiguous, long titles serve no help.

Example:

  1. ‘The Transfer of Property Act, 1882 – An Act to amend the laws relating the transfer of property by Act of parties’.
  2. ‘Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 – An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to the prevention of corruption and matters connected therewith’.

Earlier the Long titles were not considered as part of the statute. Hence, they were not considered as an internal aids to interpretation. But now, long titles are being used by judicial officers and judges to interpret the Acts. Some case laws, which credit long titles to be used as internal aid, are discussed below –

i. Popat Lal Shah vs. State of Madras (AIR 1953 SC 274) – In this case, the ‘Long title’ of the Madras General Sales Tax, 1939, was used to address the general object of the Act.

ii. Amarendra Kumar Mahopatra vs. State of Orissa (AIR 2014 SC 1716) – In this case, the court held that title is an integral part of the statute. It determines the general object of it, but the true nature of the Act must not be deduced from the title but the content of such Act or statute.

Exceptions:

  1. Title could not be used as an internal aids to interpretation if the words in the provisions of that Act or statute are unambiguous.
  2. The content of the Act/provision is primary, while the title is secondary. The label cannot prevail against the precise meaning of the statute.
  3. The title must not narrow the scope of the content in the statute.

2. Preamble

A preamble is an introduction or a preface to any Act or statute. It explains its purpose(s). The preamble contains the aims and objectives of the entire statute or Act. It reveals the true intention of the legislature for which the Act or statute was enacted. The courts certainly use the preamble to interpret the provisions of the Act or statute. It is an integral part of the statute. However, the preamble is also secondary in nature if the words of the provisions in the Act are unambiguous.[1]

Example: Preamble to the Constitution of India.

Some important case laws in reference to preamble as an internal aids to interpretation are discussed below-

i. In Re: Kerala Education Bill, 1957it was held that the policy and purpose of the Act could be derived from its preamble.

ii. In Kesavananda Bharati vs. the State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461– The Supreme Court strongly recommended that the Preamble of the Constitution of India for deciding the power of the Parliament to amend the constitution under Article 368 was not unlimited. It could not disturb the basic structure of the constitution.

iii. In Global Energy Ltd. vs. Central Electricity Regulatory Commission– It was observed that the aim and objects of the statute should be read along with the preamble to it.

iv. In Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh v. NTC (South Maharashtra)– The Supreme Court of India held that preamble must not be referred to- as an aid to interpret the provisions of any Act if the words of the provisions are unambiguous and clear.

v. In Maharashtra Land Development Corporation vs. the State of Maharashtra– It was held that the Preamble of the Act is a guiding Light. Hence, It could be treated as an essential aid for interpreting the provisions in the Act.

3. Marginal Notes

These are the side notes to the sections in the Act. It expresses the effect of the section. Mostly, marginal acts are not added to the sections, by the legislators themselves. Instead, they are added by the drafter later. Hence, marginal notes cannot be used as an aid to interpretation unless the legislators have added them as in the Constitution of India.

i. In Bengal Immunity Company vs. The State of Bihar, it was held that the marginal notes could be relied on for interpretation of the provisions in Article 286 of the Constitution of India.

ii. In Tara Prasad Singh vs. Union of India, the court held that marginal notes are secondary in nature. The general content of the provision(s) is primary in nature.

iii. In S.P. Gupta vs. President of India, the apex court decided that if any conflict between the content and the marginal notes of a provision arises, then the marginal note is to be yielded. However, they may be looked into as an aid to interpretation in case of ambiguity. Marginal notes must not disturb the effect of explicit provisions of the legislature.

4. Headings

Headings are attached to every section of every Act or statute. For example; Section 3 of ‘General Powers of Central Government’ in the Indian Constitution has a heading i.e. ‘Power of Central Government to take measure to protect and improve the environment’. Like marginal notes, headings too, are not introduced by the legislators themselves. The drafters insert these. Headings and the preamble are treated in a similar fashion. It is used as an aid to interpretation when the content of the provisions create ambiguity. However, if the general meaning of the enactment is clear, headings must not be used. But if there is more than one conclusion of any provision, its heading should be used to derive a true meaning to the provision.

i. In N.C. Dhoundial v. Union of India, the court held that the heading could be relied upon to conclude a clear meaning of a provision if more than one conclusion is derived from the wordings of that provision.

ii. In Union of India v. ABN Amro Bank, the court said that in a situation where there is no ambiguity in the interpretation of the content, headings must not be relied upon for deriving a different conclusion.

5. Illustrations

Certain provisions are explained through illustrations. These narrate a story in reference to the provision. These represent the situations in which that provision may be referred to. They create a background to the provision and its future implications. Illustrations address the situations or conditions under which the provision or statute may be used. These can be used as an aid to the interpretation of law or provision.

i. In Mahesh Chand Sharma vs. Raj Kumari Sharma, the apex court held that illustration is an essential part of any section. Hence, it could be used in deriving the meaning of the provision(s).

ii. In Mudliyar Chatterjee v. International Film Co., it was observed that an illustration could not be ignored while interpreting a provision.

iii. However, it cannot be used to defeat the content of the provision or modify the provision’s language.

6. Exceptions

Exceptions depict the conditions under which the following Act shall not be applicable. For example – The ten exceptions to Section 499 of the Indian Penal code 1860, marks the conditions under which the act shall not amount to defamation. Similarly, exceptions are marked for Section 300, which address the situations under which the act causing the death of a person shall not amount to the crime of murder. At the same time, Exceptions affirm that all the actions not mentioned as an exception, shall be deemed to be an act covered by the provision. Exceptions are generally added to enactment with the purpose of exempting something which would otherwise fall within the ambit of the main provision.

i. In Director of Secondary Education v. Pushpendra Kumar, it was held that a provision in the nature of an exception cannot interpreted such that it defies the general content of the provision.

ii. In Collector of Customs v. M/s. Modi Rubber Limited, it was suggested that exceptions must be subject to the primary cause of the provisions mentioned in an Act.

7. Schedules

Schedules attached to the Act list out the powers, methods, subjects etc. associated with the primary concept of the provisions in the Act. At times, the schedule may be composed of methods to achieve the rights conferred in the provision(s). Schedules are an essential part of any statute. Hence, these can be relied upon for interpreting any provision in case of a dispute with regard to the meaning of the terms used in them.

i. In M/s. Aphali Pharmaceuticals Limited vs. State of Maharashtra, the court held that the schedule is secondary to the general content of the provision. Hence any conflict of meaning due to terms used in the main provision and the schedule, the main content of the provision must be given priority.

ii. In Jagdish Prasad v. State of Rajasthan and others, it was held that the content in the schedule cannot overrule the general content of the provisions. However, it must be referred in case of dispute regarding common understanding of the provisions.

8. Explanation

These address the meaning of any provision. These help in removing the doubts which may otherwise arise due to complex terminologies used in the Act. It must be noted that it does not expand the meaning of the provisions. Most of the Indian statutes have explanations attached to them. These serve to be an important aid to interpretation. However, these could not be used to manipulate the language of the main content of the provision.

i. In Bengal Immunity Company v. State of Bihar, explanations were recognised as an important part of any section of an Act. These were used to interpret the meaning of a provision.

ii. In Bihta Co-operative Development Cane Marketing Union v. State of Bihar, the court held that in case of conflict due to explanation and the main content of the provision, the court must try to establish a balance between both of them before deriving a conclusion.

iii. In Sundaram v. V.R. Pattabhiraman, the apex court recognised explanations as statutory part of an Act; and not just substantive in nature.

Conclusion

Legislators draft the statutes with utmost care. They ensure that no provision of the law causes ambiguity. After drawing these statutes, they undergo an intensive debate and discussion. A group of intellectuals scrutinise the draft proposal. However, sometimes people misinterpret the texts of these statutes. Such misinterpretation might result in disputes between parties. Hence, to resolve any misunderstanding concerning texts of the provision(s), the statutes are provided with multiple internal aids to interpretation like- marginal notes, exceptions, schedules, etc. These aids are beneficial in situations where the provision’s text could be interpreted as having two different meanings.

These aids support the actual meaning of the text and the legislators’ intention while drafting these statutes and provisions. The judiciary has used internal aids to settle the disputes arising out of the substantial question of law or fact. Internal aids to interpretation help legislators while drafting new proposals. It makes it convenient for them to convey their actual messages through explanations, illustrations etc. Being an essential part of the statute itself, internal aids to interpretation serve to be more reliable than external aids. These are considered to be the first option for answering the substantial questions on the law in case of ambiguities in the texts.

[1]Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Vedic Vishwavidyalaya v. State of M.P. AIR (2013) 15 SCC 677

This Article has been written by Gyanendra Akrisht Tripathi, BA. LL.B (Hons) Student at School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be) University, Lavasa Campus.

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