LITERAL RULE: A SAFE TOOL FOR INTERPRETATION?


By: DIPAKKSHI CHACHAN
ABSTRACT
The Statute is the will of the sovereign. Most of the times the courts will be looked upon to interpret the words, phrases and expressions used in the statute. The paper will deal with the literal rule of interpretation .Literal interpretation means to interpret the statute using the ordinary meaning of the language. The function of court is to apply the law as it is. In this form of interpretation the words used in the statute are construed according to their ordinary meaning or according to the popular and dictionary meaning of the term used.
The objective of the paper is to study the scope of it and to know the criticisms attached with the literal rule .Case laws are cited and juristic analysis has been mention in the paper to give a clear understanding of the topic.
KEYWORDS
STATUTE, LITERAL RULE, ORDINARY MEANING, INTERPRETATION, COURT.
INTRODUCTION
The functions of the Government is divided between three organs of the i.e. The Legislative, The Executive and The Judiciary. The legislative is vested with the work of making law while the Judiciary’s work is to interpret. In India, Judiciary derives its power of interpretation from Article 13 of the Constitution. In the process, of interpretation the courts have to follow certain “Rules of Interpretation of Statutes”. INTERPRETATION is the method by which the true sense or meaning of the word, phrase, and expressions used in the Statute is understood.
The reason why the Judiciary is vested with the powers of interpretation is that in some circumstances there is some ambiguity on the provision of law or uncertainty in the meaning of the words, which could defeat justice. Therefore, keeping the main objective of justice in mind, the interpreter performed his function by applying some reasonable standards and these standards, today are known as Rules of Judicial Interpretation.
LITERAL RULE: WHETHER A SAFE TOOL FOR INTERPRETATION
A) Statutes are read in its ordinary meaning; leading to harsh decisions
“We are not entitled, said Lord. Loreburn L.C., “to read words into an Act of Parliament unless clear reason for it is found within the four corners of the Act itself. The judicial Committee also said in Craword V. Spooner held that “we cannot aid the legislature’s defective phrasing of an Act. We cannot add or amend, and by construction make up deficiencies which are left there.”
It is a fundamental principle of interpretation that the words are given their natural ordinary or popular meaning unless that leads some ambiguity. It has been held that the intention of the legislature is gathered from the language used and the words used or omitted. So, when look at the Indian Jurisprudence of Right to Privacy , 8 judge bench in M. P Sharma V. Satish Chandra refused to give a constitutional status to Right to Privacy under Article 21 stating that if the Constitutional makers wanted to add then they would had included in it . It fails in recognising the intention of the parliament .Similarly, In A. K Gopalan V. State of Madras , the Supreme Court using the literal interpretation to Article 21 refused the concept of “procedure established by law” with the principles of Natural Justice.
Another area where the Supreme Court had used the literal interpretation was in interpretation of law under Article 13(2) along with the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution under Article 368 .The Constitution of India 1950 was silent as to whether the word LAW under Article 13(2) included a constitutional amendment or not . In the case Sankari Prasad Singh Deo V. Union of India the court rejected contention stating that the Constitutional (First Amendment) ACT 1951, was violative as it takes away or abridges the fundamental right as per the provision in Article 13(2). The court made a distinction between ordinary legislative power and the Constituent power of the Parliament. Later in the year 1965 Supreme Court held that a constitutional amendment could take away or abridge fundamental rights .
In the case of Karimbil Kunhikornanl , it was held that the definition of ‘estate’ as given Article 31 (1)(a) did not expressly say that even the lands held under ‘Ryotwari pattas’ are also estate and therefore lands held by ryotwari pattadars in this part which has come to the State of Madras are not estates within the meaning of Article 31 A (2) (a) of the Constitution and thereafter the Act is not protected under Article 31 A(1) from the attack under Articles 14,19 and 31 of the Constitution .
“Whiteley could not be convicted of impersonating any person entitled to vote” at an election, because the person he impersonated was dead. Using a literal construction of the relevant statutory provision, the deceased was not a person to vote.” For sure this was not the intention of the Parliament. The literal rule does not importance to the consequences .Maxwell has pointed out that every word in a statute has to be a given meaning and accordingly, a construction which would leave without effect any part of the language of statute will normally be rejected.
.B) Courts cannot add or deduct any words from the Statute:
Lord Wright in Kamalaranjan Roy V. Secretary of State in the following words “It may be that there is a casus omissus, but if so that omission can only be supplied by the statute or statutory action. The court cannot put into the Act words which are not expressed and which cannot reasonably be implied on any recognised principles of construction. That would be the work of legislation, not of construction and outside the province of the court.” So, if the legislature has omitted any word, it is not the duty of the court to add such words. The general rule, as pointed out by Blackburn, is that if the legislature has omitted something which was known to it at the time when the Act was passed, it must be supposed to have been omitted intentionally.
Devlin L.J stated that the court will always allow the intention of a statute o override the defects of wordings but the courts have no ability to do so. It was held in Magor and St. Me lions R.D C V. Newport Corporation that the courts do not have power to bridge the gaps in an act, and to do so would be to usurp the function of the legislature. The Patna High court has held that the courts cannot aid the Legislative deficiencies. A court is not allowed to produce a casus Omissus and to do so they would be encroaching upon the preserves of the legislature, the primary function of law being jus dicere and not jus dare.
Denning L.J has criticised this view by stating “I have said before and I repeat it now that we should so construe an act of Parliament as to effectuate the intention of makers of it and not to defeat it. I f they have by mistake overlooked something, we should do our best to smooth it out. We construe it so as to avoid absurdities and incongruities and produce a consistent and just results.”
C. CAN LEAD TO INJUSTICE:
Strict applicability of literal rule may cause injustice and sometimes give results which are quit contrary to the general intention of the Parliament.
In Emperor V. BeneroiLall, Rowland J observed that: While giving effect to the meaning of the words, the court should not be concerned about the result, even if it would be injurious. Lord Diplock stated that “Where the meaning of the statutory words is plain and unambiguous it is not then for the judges to invent fancied ambiguities as an excuse for failing to give effect to its plain meaning because they consider the consequences for doing so would be inexpedient or even unjust or immoral.” This definition says that the Judges should not deviate from the natural meaning of the word even if the result is unjust.
In R V. Maginnis case (1987), the defendants was charged with the possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply under the misuse of drugs Act 1971. The defendants claimed that the drugs belonged to his friends who was picking them later. The judge sated that handing the drugs would amount to supply. The case was upheld on appeal and Lord Keith proposed that: “The words supply in its ordinary natural meaning, conveys the idea of furnishing or providing to another something which is wanted or required in order to meet the wants or requirements of that other.”
Lord Goff dissented saying: “I do not feel able to say that either the delivery of goods by a depositor to a depositee, or redelivery of goods by a depositee to a depositor can sensibly be described as an act of supplying goods to another.”
Literal rule can create loopholes like in Partridge V. Crittenden the defendants placed an advertisement offering two bramble finches for sale, and as per Section 6 of Protection of Birds Act 1954 makes it an offence to sell these birds. The court applying the literal meaning treated it as an invitation to offer and not an offer for sale thus acquitting the defendant. Another example is that in the case of London and North Eastern Railway V. Berriman a rail worker was killed while he was oiling a track. Under the statute it was stated that, compensation is provided to a worker if the death was caused while replacing or relaying track. Therefore, the workman was not entitled to any compensation.
CONCLUSION
Literal rule of interpretation is a primary rule. In this rule the courts interpret the statute in a literal and ordinary sense. That the main function of a court is to merely interpret what a statute lays down and not to legislate according to what it thinks should be the law. No doubt that literal rule is the basis of all case and it upholds the Separation of powers and respects parliamentary supremacy, but at times can also create injustices. .Sometimes, there are cases where by using the ordinary meaning of words does not meet the ends of a fair and reasonable justice. The rule rests on the assumption that the words have a fixed meaning. In fact, words are imprecise leading justice to impose their own prejudices to determine the meaning of a statute.
It is said that the ordinary rule of interpretation is not suitable to the modern social legislation, if this rigidity is to be accepted then it would stand in the way of adopting the changing needs of the developing society.

(1846) 4 MIA 179

AIR 1954 SC 300

AIR 1950 SC 27
AIR 1951 SC 458

Sajjan Singh V. State Of Rajasthan , AIR 1965 SC 845 , 855

KarimbilKunhikoman V. State of Kerala , AIR 1962 SC 694

Whiteley V. Chappel 1868; LR 4QB 147

AIR 1938 PC 281

K.P. Chakwarthy, Interpretation of statutes, 2ndedition , Central law agency pg59

[1950]2 All.E.R.1226 at 1236

K.P. Chakwarthy, Interpretation of statutes, 2ndedition , Central law agency pg59

Click to access FM-Jul14-LT-2-dEVANAND.pdf

AIR 1943 FC 36 ,CIT v. T. V Sundaram Iyyengar (1975) 101 I.T.R 764 SC

Duport Steel V. Sirs (1980)

(1968]2 All ER 421
[1946] AC 278

Image Source: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.lawcolumn.in%2Fliteral-rule-of-interpretation%2F&psig=AOvVaw1BpNi1blK-MDkP5J7Yzm4M&ust=1621405889269000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCLCPpevN0vACFQAAAAAdAAAAABAD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close