Rules of Interpretation

Rules of Interpretation

Literal or Grammatical Rule

It is the first rule of interpretation. According to this rule, the words used in this text are to be given or interpreted in their natural or ordinary meaning. After the interpretation, if the meaning is completely clear and unambiguous then the effect shall be given to a provision of a statute regardless of what may be the consequences.

The basic rule is that whatever the intention legislature had while making any provision it has been expressed through words and thus, are to be interpreted according to the rules of grammar. It is the safest rule of interpretation of statutes because the intention of the legislature is deduced from the words and the language used.

According to this rule, the only duty of the court is to give effect if the language of the statute is plain and has no business to look into the consequences which might arise. The only obligation of the court is to expound the law as it is and if any harsh consequences arise then the remedy for it shall be sought and looked out by the legislature.

Case Laws

Maqbool Hussain v. State of Bombay,  In this case, the appellant, a citizen of India after arriving at the airport did not declare that he was carrying gold with him. During his search was carried on, gold was found in his possession as it was against the notification of the government and was confiscated under section 167(8) of Sea Customs Act.  

Later on, he was also charged under section 8 of the Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947.  The appellant challenged this trial to be violative under Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution. According to this article, no person shall be punished or prosecuted more than once for the same offence. This is considered as double jeopardy.

It was held by the court that the Seas Act neither a court nor any judicial tribunal. Thus, accordingly, he was not prosecuted earlier. Hence, his trial was held to be valid.

Manmohan Das versus Bishan Das, AIR 1967 SC 643

The issue in the case was regarding the interpretation of section 3(1)(c) of U.P Control of Rent and Eviction Act, 1947. In this case, a tenant was liable for evidence if he has made addition and alternate in the building without proper authority and unauthorized perception as materially altered the accommodation or is likely to diminish its value.  The appellant stated that only the constitution can be covered, which diminishes the value of the property and the word ‘or’ should be read as land.

It was held that as per the rule of literal interpretation, the word ‘or’ should be given the meaning that a prudent man understands the grounds of the event are alternative and not combined.

State of Kerala v. Mathai Verghese and others, 1987 AIR 33 SCR(1) 317, in this case a person was caught along with the counterfeit currency “dollars” and he was charged under section 120B, 498A, 498C and 420  read with section 511 and 34 of Indian Penal Code for possessing counterfeit currency. The accused contended before the court that a charge under section 498A and 498B of Indian Penal Code can only be levied in the case of counterfeiting of Indian currency notes and not in the case of counterfeiting of foreign currency notes. The court held that the word currency notes or bank note cannot be prefixed. The person was held liable to be charge-sheeted.

The Mischief Rule

Mischief Rule was originated in Heydon’s case in 1584. It is the rule of purposive construction because the purpose of this statute is most important while applying this rule. It is known as Heydon’s rule because it was given by Lord Poke in Heydon’s case in 1584. It is called as mischief rule because the focus is on curing the mischief.

In the Heydon’s case, it was held that there are four things which have to be followed for true and sure interpretation of all the statutes in general, which are as follows-

  1. What was the common law before the making of an act.
  2. What was the mischief for which the present statute was enacted.
  3. What remedy did the Parliament sought or had resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the commonwealth.
  4. The true reason of the remedy.

The purpose of this rule is to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.

The Golden Rule

It is known as the golden rule because it solves all the problems of interpretation. The rule says that to start with we shall go by the literal rule, however, if the interpretation given through the literal rule leads to some or any kind of ambiguity, injustice, inconvenience, hardship, inequity, then in all such events the literal meaning shall be discarded and interpretation shall be done in such a manner that the purpose of the legislation is fulfilled.

The literal rule follows the concept of interpreting the natural meaning of the words used in the statute. But if interpreting natural meaning leads to any sought of repugnance, absurdity or hardship, then the court must modify the meaning to the extent of injustice or absurdity caused and no further to prevent the consequence.

This rule suggests that the consequences and effects of interpretation deserve a lot more important because they are the clues of the true meaning of the words used by the legislature and its intention. At times, while applying this rule, the interpretation done may entirely be opposite of the literal rule, but it shall be justified because of the golden rule.  The presumption here is that the legislature does not intend certain objects. Thus, any such interpretation which leads to unintended objects shall be rejected.

Five part analysis of the golden rule of interpretation

Whenever there is a shadow of scepticism casted on the grammatical construction of any law then in such circumstances, the golden rule of interpretation can be applied on the law in order to apply it to the facts in a legal dispute.  The external manifestation of the underlying law which is interpreted from reading between the lines projects the true intent of the legislature for which the golden rule is used. By taking into consideration the consequences of the judgement, the judges have the discretion to interpret the law in a rational manner. The analysis of Golden Rule can be divided into five categories as discussed below:


Explaining the principle underlying the Golden rule, Justice Burton in the case of Warburton v. Loveland observed that in the very first instance of application of law the grammatical sense of the wordings of law must be paid heed. But if there is involvement of any absurdity, inconsistency, or is against the declared purpose of the statute then in such circumstance, the grammatical sense of the law can be modified or interpreted so far as there is no injustice caused to the parties of the case. Even though the elementary rule of interpreting the words as it is in their grammatical sense has been upheld by the courts in numerous cases like Madan Lal v. Changdeo Sugar Mills, the courts should still be open to various interpretations of the law so that no injustice is caused. This well-known rule was strictly formulated by Parke B. in the case of Becke v. Smith wherein it was held that, the wordings of the law which are unambiguous and plain nature should be construed in their regular sense even though, if in their assessment it is absurd or promotes injustice. We assume the function of the legislature when we deviate from the ordinary meaning of the statute due to which from the adherence to its literal meaning we prevent the manifestation of injustice.


The term golden rule was coined by Lord Wensleydale which was later adopted in the case of Gray v. Pearson due to which it is primarily called the Lord Wensleydale’s Golden Rule of Interpretation. Lord Wensleydale expressing this opinion of the rule, mentioned that he is deeply awestruck with the perception of the rule which is being universally accepted by the courts all over the world in order to understand all the written laws, construing wills and other written frameworks. He also mentioned that the ordinary derivative and the grammatical construction of the law should be abided by in the first instance unless there is any absurdity or repugnancy due to which it is necessary to modify the ordinary understanding of the words. In the case of Matteson v. Hart the golden rule was elaborately discussed by Jervis CJ where he relied on the Golden Rule of Construction in order to understand the words used by the Legislature in the Acts and also to prevent any absurdity and injustice which may stem from the intention of the statute.


In the Heydon’s Rule of Mischief, he elaborated that only in such circumstances where the intention of the legislature appears to be unjust, only in such cases the intervention of the office of judges in interpreting the law is reasonable. Slightly deviating from what Lord Wensleydale has opined, instead of viewing the legislative intent as a whole and construe it all-together, the reasons for the enactment of the laws in retrospect should be taken into consideration so that we can derive the object it plans to subserve and the evil it plans to end. In the case of Newspaper Ltd. v. State Industrial Tribunal, the Latin maxim “ex visceribus actus” was cited which meant that while determining the intention of the legislation, detached sections of parts of the Act should not be taken, instead the intention of the act as a whole which construes the constituent parts should be considered. This principle was reaffirmed in the case of Inland Revenue Commissioners. V. Herbert where Lord Haldane interpreted a legislation which was newly enacted and he adjudged that “Where words of general understanding are used, the common understanding of men is one main clue to the meaning of legislature.” But the Golden Rule of Interpretation laid by Lord Wensleydale has been a principle accepted worldwide.


As described by Lord Granworth LC, this is a “Cardinal Rule ” which is a rule based on common sense which is as strong as can be”. In the English cases, there are three basic rules as elucidated by GW Paton. Those are:

  1. Whatever the result, if the meaning of the wordings of law is plain then they should be applied as per the Literal Rule.
  2. Unless there is any ambiguity or absurdity in the wordings of the law, the ordinary sense of the law should be resorted to as per the Golden Rule.
  3.   The general policy or intention of the statute must be considered and eliminate the evil which was directed as per the Mischief Rule.

There is a lot of care which must be taken with regards to the later part of the Golden Rule and in the case of Christopher v. Lotinga, every word of the Golden Rule was subscribed to by Justice Willes. In the case of Woodward v. Watts, Justice Crompton expressed his doubts regarding this rule and opined that the Legislature must have enacted the legislation with a particular intent which may be destroyed if the courts reinterpret it due to some absurdity which defeats the whole purpose of the enactment. To understand the applicability of the three methods of judicial approach which is the literal rule, the golden rule and the mischief that the statute is designed for in order to prevent it, the case of Vacher v. London Society of Compositors can be referred to. In this case, the validity of Section 4(1) of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906 was in question as to whether any torturous acts which are committed by the trade unions are included under the protection or is it only such are which was torturous in nature in furtherance of any trade dispute. Deciding on the former view, the House of Lords relied on the aforementioned three judicial approaches in which Lord Macnaughten adopted the golden rule of interpretation which is derived from the case of Grey v. Pearson, while Lord Atkinson espoused the literal approach which is derived from the case of Cooke v. Charles A Vageler and lastly, the history of the enactment of the stature and the application the mischief method has been relied upon by Lord Moulton.

Harmonious Construction

According to this rule of interpretation, when two or more provisions of the same statute are repugnant to each other, then in such a situation the court, if possible, will try to construe the provisions in such a manner as to give effect to both the provisions by maintaining harmony between the two. The question that the two provisions of the same statute are overlapping or mutually exclusive may be difficult to determine.

The legislature clarifies its intention through the words used in the provision of the statute. So, here the basic principle of harmonious construction is that the legislature could not have tried to contradict itself. In the cases of interpretation of the Constitution, the rule of harmonious construction is applied many times.

It can be assumed that if the legislature has intended to give something by one, it would not intend to take it away with the other hand as both the provisions have been framed by the legislature and absorbed the equal force of law. One provision of the same act cannot make the other provision useless. Thus, in no circumstances, the legislature can be expected to contradict itself.

Difference between Interpretation and Construction

Contract of indemnity and contingent contract

Bailable & Non bailable offence under Indian penal code

Contract and Essential Elements

Contract of indemnity and contingent contract

Sources of Hindu Law

Article 15, 19, 21 of Indian Constitution

Fundamental Rights: Summary

Definition of Promissory notes 


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