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1 GOLDEN RULE OF INTERPRETATION on Mon 18 Oct 2010 - 14:14

Preetpal Singh

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The golden rule is that the words of a statute must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning. It is yet another rule of construction that when the words of the statute are clear, plain and unambiguous, then the courts are bound to give effect to that meaning, irrespective of the consequences. It is said that the words themselves best declare the intention of the law-giver."

In Sutters v. Briggs [1922 (1) Appeal Cases 1], the Privy Council held:

"There is indeed no reason for limiting the natural and ordinary meaning of the words used. The term "holders or indorsees" means any holder and any indorsee, whether the holder be the original payee or a mere agent for him, and the rights of the drawer must be construed accordingly. The circumstance that the law apart from the section in question was repealed in 1845, without any repeal of the section itself may lead to anomalies, but cannot have weight in construing the section."

In Dental Council of India and Anr. v. Hari prakash and Ors. , it was held:

"The intention of the Legislature is primarily to be gathered from the language used in the statute, thus paying attention to what has been said as also to what has not been said. When the words used are not ambiguous, literal meaning has to be applied, which is the golden rule of interpretation."

In Maumsell v. Olins, (1975) AC 373, Lord Simon formulated the exception to the "golden rule" required by technical words, or words of art, as follows :

"(The 'golden rule') is sometimes put. (sic) that in statutes dealing with ordinary people, in their everyday lives, the language is presumed to be used in its primary ordinary sense unless this stultified the purpose of the statute or otherwise produces some injustice, absurdity, anomaly or contradiction in which case some secondary ordinary sense may be preferred so as to obviate the injustice, absurdity, anomaly or contradiction, or fulfil the purpose of the statute ; while in statutes dealing with technical matters, words which are capable of both bearing the ordinary meaning and being terms of art in the technical matter of the legislation will presumptively bear their primary meaning as such terms of art (or, if they must necessarily be modified, some secondary meaning as terms of art.")

In Navinchandra Mafatlal v. CIT, Bombay (1955) 1 SCR 829, 836-7, it was observed by Hon'ble Supreme Court that :

"The golden rule of interpretation is that words should be read in their ordinary, natural and grammatical meaning subject to the rider that in construing words in a Constitution conferring legislative power the most liberal construction should be put upon the words so that they may have effect in their widest amplitude."

The 'golden rule' is dealt with in Principles of Statutory Interpretation (G.P.Singh - Eighth Edition), in the following words:

"VISCOUNT SIMON, L.C., said: 'The golden rule is that the words of a statute must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning'. Natural and ordinary meaning of words should not be departed from 'unless it can be shown that the legal context in which the words are used requires a different meaning'. Such a meaning cannot be departed from by the judges 'in the light of their own views as to policy' although they can 'adopt a purposive interpretation if they can find in the statute read as a whole or in material to which they are permitted by law to refer as aids to interpretation an expression of Parliament's purpose or policy'. For a modern statement of the rule one may refer to the speech of LORD SIMON OF GLAISDALE in a recent case where he said: 'Parliament is prima facie to be credited with meaning what is said in an Act of Parliament. The drafting of statutes, so important to a people who hope to live under the rule of law, will never be satisfactory unless courts seek whenever possible to apply 'the golden rule' of construction, that is to read the statutory language, grammatically and terminologically, in the ordinary and primary sense which it bears in its context, without omission or addition. Of course, Parliament is to be credited with good sense; so that when such an approach produces injustice, absurdity, contradiction or stultification of statutory objective the language may be modified sufficiently to avoid such disadvantage, though no further'."

Maxwell on The Interpretation of Statutes deals with the golden rule in the following words:

"The so-called 'golden rule' is really a modification of the literal rule. It was stated in this way by Parke B.: 'It is a very useful rule, in the construction of a statute, to adhere to the ordinary meaning of the words used, and to the grammatical construction, unless that is at variance with the intention of the legislature, to be collected from the statute itself, or leads to any manifest absurdity or repugnance, in which case the language may be varied or modified, so as to avoid such inconvenience, but no further.'. 'If', said Brett L.J., 'the inconvenience is not only great, but what I may call an absurd inconvenience, by reading an enactment in its ordinary sense, whereas if you read it in a manner in which it is capable, though not its ordinary sense, there would not be any inconvenience at all, there would be reason why you should not read it according to its ordinary grammatical meaning'."

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