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Meaning of Interpretation of Statutes and The Intention of Legislature

Definition and Meaning:

“Interpretation”: According to Webster’s New World Dictionary the word Interpretation as “the act or result of Interpreting ; Explanation, Meaning, Translation, Exposition, and word construction is understood as the act or process of construing, the way in which something is constructed ; manner or method of building.”

Statutory is defined as fixed, authorized or established by statute.

According to ‘Salmond’, the interpretation happens or necessary only in enacted law not in case of customary or case laws. He defines it as a process by which the courts seek to ascertain the meaning of legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed.

  • Difference between Construction and Interpretation:

According to Cooley: ‘Interpretation’ is an art of finding out the true sense of any form of words, i.e., the sense which their author intended to convey and of enabling others to derive from them the same idea which the author intended to convey.

‘Construction’: is a process of drawing conclusion, respecting subjects what lie beyond the direct expressions of the text from the elements known from and given in the text conclusions which are in the spirit though not within letter of law.

As observed by WHITE, J:

Both mean to have same significance. It may be understood that the two expressions are to be used as synonymous.

  • Objective of Interpretation:

All the enacted laws are drafted by legal experts, still very often the courts and lawyers have to unfold the meanings of ambiguous words, expressions and resolve inconsistencies.

  • Interpretation as function of Judiciary:

There are three organs of state (a) Legislature (b) Executive (c) Judiciary. Legislature makes laws, executive enacts laws and judiciary interprets laws. It is rather the functional aspects of the law.

Judiciary is the organ which puts the law in operation or puts the law in use. When law is put in use then could be possibility of absurdity hardship or inconvenience, ambiguity which makes the law futile. Hence to put the law in use or get into functional role the judiciary has to put efforts to remove the absurdity, hardship, ambiguity and inconvenience having the rules of interpretation and this is called construction / interpretation.

The function of interpretation or construction is guided by the Maxim.

“jus dicere et non jus dare” i.e., to declare the law and not to give it. i.e., office of judges is not to make the law but to declare the law.


A statute is an edict (Proclamation by sovereign state or government official) the most accepted mode of interpretation or construing the statute is to adopt the interpretation or construction according “to the intent of them that make it”.

It is the duty of Judicature is to act upon the true intention of the legislature. This is guided by the Maxim. “Sententia Legis” i.e., true intention of legislature.

Intention of the legislature always serves as reference to the meaning of words used by legislature which are objectively determined. It is nowhere seen or expressly provided, it has to be assessed by the guiding rules of interpretation.

  • According to Salmond the duty of the judicature is to discover and to act upon the true intention of the legislature under the Maxim, ‘sententia legis’ or mens.

As essence of the law lies in the spirit, not in its letter, but letter are the only way in which intentions are expressed. The words are external manifestation of intention that it involves. When there is possibility of one or more interpretation of statute, courts has to adopt that interpretation which reflects the ‘true intention of legislature’ which can also be considered legal meaning statutory provisions.

  • The intention of legislature shall have two aspects:-

  • “Meaning’’: That which tell what the words mean.

  • “Purpose and Object”: That which includes purpose and object of enacting the statute.

As already understood intention of legislature is not found, it is assessed from the statute with a combination of ‘meaning of the words’ and light of purpose or objects.

  • Guiding lines to frame intention of legislature are: –

  1. The context (pari materiae. external aid to interpretation).

  2. The subject matter.

  3. The effects and consequences.

  4. The spirit or reason of the law.

Intention of legislature is assessed either in express words or by necessary implication in keeping mind the purpose or object of the statute.

  • According to J, A mechanical interpretation of the words and application of legislature intent devoid of concept will make most of the remedial and beneficent legislation futile (ineffective). Judiciary would mold or creatively interpret legislation as they are finishers, refiners and polishers of legislation.

  • Supposed intention (limitation):-

It is very well accepted that through the text and then with the context the intention is understood, but in any case courts cannot, think of anything which the legislation has not provided. If the court understands anything beyond what the legislation provided then it is understood as supposed intention which the court has arrived at on his own by overviewing the legislative parameters or subjects involved in legislation by the legislature.

It is a universally accepted truth that ‘no facts of the case are same’ but definitely there would be similarity in the facts of the case. While applying the same law in different cases on similarity courts cannot or need not proceed with a supposed intention.

  • Supreme courts guidelines for interpretation (or) Settled principles of interpretation:-

  1. The court must start with the presumption that legislature did not make a mistake.

  2. The court must adopt a construction which will carry out the obvious intention of the legislature.

  3. If there is a defect or an omission of the words used by the legislature, the court must as much as possible, by literal reading produce on intelligible result. When the provision becomes unintelligible, absurd, unreasonable, unworkable or totally irreconcilable with other parts of statute then only words may be added, altered or modified, thereby to connect or make up the deficiency.

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