Need and Significance of Rules of Interpretation

The law is laid down in the statutes by the legislative makers. These laws employ different characteristics, wordings, sentences and thus, accordingly, the meaning might differ in regard to the common parlance. That is why there is a need for the courts, who apply those laws given in the statute, to form the correct meaning and find out the true intention of the legislature in regard to that particular provision, law and statute. Therefore, courts look into different criteria or rules which form the significant part of such interpretation. There are basic three rules of interpretation that are of importance.

1.Literal Rule of Interpretation

The literal rule of interpretation is also called as the plain word or grammatical rule of interpretation. It employs the method of looking at the direct words and meaning that is given by the legislature and to interpret it in that aspect only without deviating from it. It is the last resort to deviate from the actual meaning of the words, phrases used in their literal or given sense in the text. Thus, to examine the precise words is the literal interpretation.
In the case of TATA Consultancy Services V. State of Andhra Pradesh, the apex court has expressly held the courts should not look for ambiguity in a particular legislation, i.e., they should not search of ambiguity. The ambiguity would be clearly visible while interpreting through the literal rule. Therefore, the very first instance should be to apply the literal rule itself and not assume ambiguity. The issue in question was related to the definition of goods under the Sale of Goods Act, 1979. The court applied the literal rule. Thus, it has to be interpreted in a strict sense as to the definition given in legal context under the definition clause and not to give what was not given in the statute.
Further, in the case of Madan Lal Fakirchand Dudhediya V. Shree Changdeo Sugar Mills Ltd. , the Supreme Court made it very clear that the work of the court is not to write the law or to rewrite it but that is clearly the power given to the Parliament in the country. Therefore, the court cannot go beyond what is given in the statute and has to apply the literal rule only. It moves towards resolving the complications only but never to rewrite what is already written. The issue was related to the interpretation of Section 76, sub-section (1) and (2) of the Companies Act, 1956 in regard to the word “capital”.

Need and Significance

The need of this rule arises when the law is clear and unambiguous. In that case, there is no need to deviate from the original and the correct meaning of the words that are used in the statute itself and the interpretation should be in accordance to those words used only.
When the intention of the legislature is clear from the words used in the text or body of the statute, then the literal interpretation is applied by the court. The court will look at what is given in the law and will interpret the meaning of the text in relation to that only and not to apply their mind. Thus, this rule of interpretation is the most important. It is in fact the first step towards interpretation by the courts. It means that while applying the law in any case, the courts, first has to look into the literal rule itself and has to apply whatever comes through that interpretation in that particular case. It is only when certain deviations, complications and ambiguity arises, that the courts have to move to the other rules like golden rule or mischief rule. Otherwise, the very first interpretation should be on the basis of the text of the statute itself.

2. Golden Rule of Interpretation

Sometimes the literal meaning of the provisions of law might produce certain uncertainty or ambiguity or absurdity. At other times, the meaning might be too narrow or too wide so as to not include or exclude all the aspects necessary. These effects lead to confusion as to the application of the law and at times, wrong application. For that purpose, the courts have to employ the golden rule of interpretation whereby, they can modify the meaning of the text to the extent so as to remove any kind of defect or injustice. It takes into consideration the literal rule itself where the words that have the correct meaning given should be applied in that sense only, but only the words that produce ambiguity should be modified to bring it under consonance with the complete text.
In the case of Tirath Singh V. Bachittar Singh and ors., the issue was related to Section 99 (1) (a) of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951. The problem was related to the issue of notice to the non-parties. The court said that the purpose of furnishing a notice is clearly to give an opportunity of being heard to the other party. The contention to issue a new notice to already who is a party or to all the persons mentioned create a discrepancy between sub-clause (i) and (ii) of Section 99 (1) (a). Because of the underlining fact that such an interpretation would create an arbitrary result. Thus, no new notice is necessary for someone who is already a party but only to non-party.

Need and Significance

One of the important part of the golden rule is that it supplements the literal rule in the sense that when there exist manifest contradiction while interpreting through the literal rule, it adds to it by modifying the meaning of the word or phrase or sentence so as to remove such inconvenience or injustice. Therefore, the golden rule comes into picture to remove the defect and the uncertainty that arises because of contradictions in the provisions of the statute.
The basic principle of golden rule is that it removes the absurdity and provides a meaning to the provision that is clear and not redundant. For example: if a provision provides that after an accident, the accused has to stop. The accused stops for a while and then moves away. By literal rule, it will lead to absurd meaning but the golden rule removes it by modifying the meaning to stop for reasonable time. Further, the golden rule is not used when the meaning is clear and doesn’t produce arbitrariness. It, thus, retains the actual intention of the legislatures and only modify as to when there is certain lacunas produced. Otherwise, it goes with the general meaning and interpretation which is ascertained. When an uncertainty is removed, it leads to better justice system.

3. Mischief Rule of Interpretation

The mischief rule of interpretation is applied to look at the intention of the legislative makers. It tries to understand what the true purpose of bringing such a particular statute, provisions, etc. was. This was developed through a very famous case of Heydon’s whereby the four criteria’s were to be looked at: firstly, what the law was before the particular law that came?; secondly, what was the mischief or defect for which the earlier law did not provide?; thirdly, what was the remedy that the legislative organ wanted to use for stopping the defect or mischief?; and lastly, what was the true and real reason for bringing the remedy? Thus, this was the concept developed through the mischief rule of interpretation which helped in clarifying the real intention of the makers of law.
In the case of Bengal Immunity Co. Ltd. V. State of Bihar & ors., the issue was related to Article 286 of the Constitution. The provision provided for the tax on sale or purchase of goods. The court applied the mischief rule in regard to this particular provision and said that the history suggests that the intent of bringing this particular Article was to make sure that there is no double taxation and to allow for the “free flow of inter-state trade and commerce”. Thus, the defect was of having multiple taxes and the remedy was to allow free flow of trade. Thus, the reason for bringing Article 286 was to remove the defect that existed through the Government of India Act, 1935 which was the earlier law at place.

Need and Significance

The major need for the mischief rule arose to understand the real and true intention of the Parliament when they were making the law. The purpose for bringing a particular legislation and statute is important. Because that purpose, determines how to deal with a particular case, which comes before the court. The purpose might not be explicitly mentioned in the statute or provision itself and that is why, the courts look back through the mischief rule, as to what was the defect that the Parliament or law-making body wanted to correct or remove. That is what the mischief rule seeks to establish.

The major purpose that the mischief rule of interpretation seeks to establish is to look at the history of the provision and then, according to that keeping in view of the perspective of the legislature has to apply the law in a particular case. This, historical aspect is necessary to understand what was lacking in the law and why that provision came so as to fill up the gap which existed. Thus, through the mischief rule, the courts look at the past of the provision or act.


Interpretation is a very important part of legal jurisprudence and aspect. It helps in ascertaining the correct meaning of the words used in the statute and further, aids in the application of the law. Therefore, the right understanding of the provisions of the statutes is necessary. For that, the court takes help of different rules developed over time. The significance and need of these rules is to be understood for better execution of the laws. Thus, rules of interpretation are of utmost value in regard to its applicability.


Arushi Anand
College: Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies