Interpretation is very important to find the real meaning of the word used in the statute according to the given circumstances. It is one of the most primary functions of the court to get the true or real meaning of the word used in the statute. There are certain propositions used in the process of interpretation, those sets of rules are known as the rules or interpretation. There are two types of interpretation grammatical and logical.
- Grammatical interpretation: it is used as it is in the context of the word used in the statute.
- Logical interpretation: in this interpretation, the judge arrives after studying the particular situation precisely to avoid injustice because a plain word does not give the logical meaning of the statute.
The golden rule of interpretation is known as “modification of the grammatical rule” and it is used to avoid absurdity, vagueness, ambiguity contain in the word used in the statute. It was introduced in England, in 1854 and was established in the case of Matterson V. Hart (1854) in case the British parliament applied the golden rule to give the word natural meaning, doing this avoided the absurdity and injustice[i], this rule solves all the problems that’s why this rule is known as the golden rule. In the golden rule of interpretation, the court gives new meaning to the words whose meaning is absurd and creates an imbalance in society.
Application of the Golden Rule of Interpretation
The application of the golden rule depends upon the circumstances. If there is a choice between two interpretations, said Viscount Simon, L.C. in Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries Ltd.
“We should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility or the narrower one which would fail to achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation. We should rather accept the bolder construction based on the view that Parliament would legislate only for the purpose of bringing about an effective result. Thus, if the language is capable of more than one interpretation, one ought to discard the literal or natural meaning if it leads to an unreasonable result, and adopt that interpretation which leads to reasonably practical results.” [ii]
The golden rule of interpretation is applied most of the time in a narrow sense where there is some vagueness or absurdity in the actual words, when the words have more than one meaning, a narrow approach is used to give it suitable meaning depending upon the particular situation. It is also utilized in the wider sense to keep away from an outcome that is unpleasant to the standards of public policy when there is just one literal meaning of the word and if it is creating imbalance or chaos then the wider approach is used to avoid these imbalances and chaos by altering the meaning of that particular word.
While applying the golden rule of interpretation, the interpretation done may altogether be inverse of the literal rule, however, it will be still justified because of the golden rule. The assumption here is that the law-making body doesn’t expect certain objects. In this manner, any such understanding which serves unintentional objects will be dismissed.
Importance of the Golden Rule of Interpretation
The golden rule of interpretation helps to rectify the errors in drafting. Choices are made more following Parliament’s expectations. The court should understand the conflicting provisions to rewrite or harmonize them. It regards the laws and the rules that are framed by the parliament, as it doesn’t give the judge the total opportunity to interpret, it tries what parliament expects.
It is very important to avoid the absurd results emerging from literal interpretation. The court takes on the golden rule of interpretation to show up at an ideal understanding which would draw out the genuine importance of the language, during the time spent offering impact to the genuine goal of the Legislature. It is one of the significant rules to adhere to the standard meaning of the words used.
Criticism of the Golden Rule of Interpretation
Probably the greatest criticism of the Golden Rule of Interpretation is the restriction imposed on judges to interpret i.e., they aren’t given total freedom to interpret on their own. Similar to the Literal Rule, the golden rule lays that the primary goal will consistently be given to the normal importance of the resolution and judges don’t hold a lot of liberty or opportunity in investigating the meaning of the clause.
Many scholars criticized the golden rule of interpretation, professor zander said that the golden rule does not precisely signify the word “absurdity”. He says the scope of this rule is limited because it is interpreting the clause in par with the literal rule, it does not lay down the rule for the circumstances which has an absurd meaning or has some vagueness or ambiguity, so it faces the same situation as that of the literal rule.
Just when some sort of absurdity or repugnancy is caused following the literal interpretation would the Judges be permitted to change the plain meaning of the Statute. Absurdity is no less ambiguous than the natural meaning of any legal clause.
The entire applicability of the rule is depending upon absurd, vague, and ambiguity which on a greater take into consideration the social and political perspective of judges, which defeats the aim of this rule as the entire applicability is dependent upon the personal perspectives.
Gray v/s Pearson [(1857) [iii]
It was said that literal or grammatical interpretation should be used as much as possible if it does not create ambiguity, vagueness, and absurdity. In case it is creating inconsistency, ambiguity then the proper amendment should be made of that particular meaning to give it justice. This is the golden rule of interpretation.
Directorate of Enforcement v/s Deepak Mahajan (A.I.R. 1994 S.C. 1775) [iv]
The Supreme court held that the golden rule of interpretation is adopted so that the intention of the legislature while deciding the case should not become meaningless. If the court finds it unjustified to decide by the literal or grammatical rule, then the use of the golden rule of interpretation should be done.
Amar Singh v/s State of Rajasthan [v]
In the case, the supreme court stated the circumstances in which the golden rule should be used:
- if the language used in the statute has more than one meaning: and
- the intention of the legislature is not clear.
Bedford v/s Bedford [vi]
In this case, the son murdered his mother, so the issue was raised, who will get the mother’s property, Mother’s relative, or son’s descendants. According to section 46 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925, the word used under the section ‘issue’ has only one meaning that son’s descendants would get it but applying the golden rule of interpretation the court held that no one should profit from a crime so it was decided that property would be in the favour of mother’s relative.
Lee v/s Knapp 1967 [vii]
In this case, the driver, after causing an accident stopped for a moment and then moved away. Under section 77 (1) of the Road Traffic Act, 1960 it is stated that a driver causing an accident shall stop after the accident. In the present case, interpretation of the word ‘stop’ was done. Court decided with the help of the golden rule, it was held that the driver did not stop for a reasonable time, reasonable time is required for the person to inquire about the accident. The interpretation of the word ‘stop’ was done in this way.
The relevancy golden rule of interpretation can be concluded as; if any word in the statute is creating absurdity, vagueness or ambiguity then it should be interpreted after analysing the particular circumstance. It is done to provide fair justice to the interpretations which create injustice and also to avoid inconsistency and absurdity. The court must not deviate from the actual sense of the circumstance and provide a word with a new meaning. Legislative intent is the crucial part in deciding, they apply the golden rule to make situation balance, if the natural meaning is leading to imbalance, then application of the golden rule of interpretation becomes necessary and relevant.
[i] Mattison v. Hart (1854) 14 CB 357
[ii] Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries (1940) AC 1014
[iii] Grey v. Pearson [(1857) 6 H.L Case 61]
[iv] Directorate of Enforcement v. Deepak Mahajan, 1994 S.C.C. (Crl) 785: A.I.R. 1994 S.C 1775).
[v] Amar Singh Vs. State of Rajasthan (2010) 9 SCC 64
[vi] Bedford V. Bedford: 1935
[vii] Lee v. Knapp (1967) 2 Q.B. 442
This article has been written by Nischay Purohit, 2nd-year Law student at Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai.