A CRITICAL ANALYSIS ON THE LITERAL RULE OF STATUTORY INTERPRETATION: M. GAYATHRI

A critical analysis on the literal rule of statutory interpretation.

Author: M.Gayathri[1]

Saveetha University, Saveetha Institute Of Medical and TechnicalSciences (SIMATS), Chennai.

ISSN: 2581-8465

Abstract:

A “Statute” is the will of the sovereign legislature according to which the governments function. The executive and the judiciary, organs of government, in the course of administration of justice must apply the law as laid down by the said legislative will. Very often situations will arise where the courts will be looked upon to interpret the words, phrases, and expressions used in the statute. In the process of such interpretation, the Courts have, over the centuries, laid down certain regulations that have come to be known as “Rules of Interpretation of Statutes”.Interpretation is the method by which the true sense or the meaning of the word is understood. There are three major rules of interpretation of statutes. They are Literal Rule, Golden Rule, Mischief Rule. Literal Interpretation of a statute is finding out the true sense by making the statute it’s own the expositor. The researcher used the empirical methods in the research and the sampling is random sampling. The objectives of the study is to study the primary rules of interpretation, To know the criticisms attached with literal rule and to know the juristic analysis of the literal rule. The hypothesis deals with whether the literal rule is solely suitable in interpretation with changing time and policies. The sample size is 1774. The research concludes that the literal rule of interpretation contains ambiguity in dispensing justice.

Keywords: Literal rule, Statute, Interpretation, Courts, Legislature.

Introduction:

The Literal Rule of interpretation, also known as the Plain-Meaning rule, is a kind of statutory construction, which dictates that statutes are to be interpreted using the ordinary meaning of the language of the legislature unless a statute explicitly defines any of its terms otherwise. (Katzmann 2014)In other words, the law is to be read word for word and should not divert from its true meaning. (Lowe & Potter 2018) It is the procedure that put forward textualism and, to a certain extent, originalism. (Sarathi 1986; Devenish 1992)To avoid ambiguity, legislatures often include “definitions” sections with a statute, which explicitly explains the most important terms used in that statute. But some statutes neglect definitions section entirely, or (more commonly) fail to define a particular word. (Wilson et al. 2018)The plain meaning principle attempts to guide courts facing litigation that points on to the meaning of a term not defined by the statute, or on that of a word found within a definition itself. (Wilson et al. 2018; Eskridge et al. 1994; Zimny et al. 2019)According to the plain meaning rule, absent a contrary definition within the statute, words must be given their plain, ordinary and literal meaning. (Sarathi 1986)When the language is not only plain but also when it admits of but one meaning the task of interpretation can hardly be said to arise. The duty of the court of law is simply to take the statute as it stands and to construe its words according to their natural significance. (Wilson et al. 2018; Eskridge et al. 1994)If the words of the legislations are by itself clear, precise and unambiguous, then no more is necessary than to expound those words in their natural and ordinary sense. (Sarathi 1975)The aim of the study is to analyze the criticisms in a literal rule of statutory interpretation.

Judicial interpretation: Heydon’s Case,1584 – Where the tenancy was established in return for agricultural services, which was something like a long-running lease with special privileges for each party and parcel was released to another man than the concerned man questions in regard to interpretation of the Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1535 came before the court. Here, it was stated that there were four points to be taken into consideration when interpreting a statute:

What was the common law before the making of the act?

What was the “mischief and defect” for which the common law did not provide?

What remedy the Parliament hath resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the commonwealth?

What is the true reason for the remedy? (Wilson et al. 2018; Kafaltiya 2008).

S. Nayak v. A.R. Antulay, 1984, AIR 684 – Where in a case The appellant filed a complaint against the respondent, A.R. Actually, a public servant being the Chief Minister of Maharashtra State under ss. 161, 165 I.P.C. and s. 5 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 (1947 Act) alleging abuse of the office of Chief Minister, the issue as regards the interpretation of the act came before the court. If the language is clear and unambiguous, no need for interpretation would arise. The 5 judge bench further observed that the question of construction arises only in the event of an ambiguity or the plain meaning of the words used in the Statute would be self-defeating.

Research question :

Whether literal rule contains ambiguity in dispensing justice?

Objectives:

To study the primary rule of interpretation.

To know criticisms attached with the literal rule.

To know the juristic analysis on the literal rule.

Hypothesis:

H0: Literal rule of interpretation is not solely suitable in interpretation with changing time and policies.

Ha: Literal rule of interpretation is solely suitable in interpretation with Changing time and policies.

Review of literature:

Interpretation is a tool by which verify the true sense of the original meaning of a particular or selected word is understood. The meaning of a simple or ordinary word of the English language isn’t a question of law. In looking to the definition of Gray, the method or process by which a judge constructs from the words given in a statute book, a meaning which he either believes to be that of the legislature or which he deems to attribute to it is interpretation.

Alekhya Reddy.T, Literally interpreting the law, focuses on cardinal rules of Interpretation of Statutes. When the words of a statute are unambiguous or are inconsistent then the first rule will be the literal rule of interpretation. Secondly, when the words are ambiguous then the Courts will next take the objectives and intent of the legislature into consideration. The primary rule of interpretation also called a literal rule or literal construction or plain rule of interpretation.

B.N.Mani Tripathi, Jurisprudence legal theory(17th edition Allahabad law agency) says, “Most of the decisions of the Supreme Court are of significance not merely because they constitute an adjudication on the rights of the parties and resolve the dispute between them but also because in doing so they embody a declaration of law that works as a binding principle in future cases”. Only when the language is vague or ambiguous, the intention of the legislature must be taken.

Kafaltiya.A.B.Interpretation of statutes,2008, asserts that in the past the legislature was not consistent in defining and drafting the principle of strict liability. He says that different statutes have a different element of culpability. According to him, this poses a difficulty for the Courts to interpret in accordance with the intent of the legislature. An exhaustive definition should be expanded or made extensive in order to embrace things that are strictly not within the meaning.

Elmer.A.Driedger, The construction of statutes, 1983, discusses the relationship between law and justice. He seeks the help of language to clarify this relationship. He is of the view that Social power can influence on law and language. He further opines that like justice, the law is also a matter of language. The courts have to follow this principle even if it results in irrationality or even if it is contrary to the policy of legislation.

Lord Diplock in Duport Steels Ltd and others v Sirs and others [1980] 1 All ER 529, noted Where the meaning of the statutory words is plain and unambiguous it is not for the judges to identify or invent fancied ambiguities as an excuse for neglecting to give effect to its plain meaning because they consider the consequences for doing so could mean inexpedient, or even unjust or immoral.

Hussain Mohammed Saheb (2005)deals with a canon of interpretation of penal statutes. It highlights the role of legislatures and judiciary in the area of making and interpretation respectively. It analyses and compares the trend of the Supreme Court of India with some foreign Courts. It further deals with some essential ingredients of Strict Rule as –a. Offence can’t be created by implication;b. Mens Rea or actus reus can’t be understood by implications;c. Kind and quantum of punishment depend upon as prescribed by the legislature.

Christo J Botha, statutory interpretation, 1998 discusses the legal maxim for the literal rule of interpretation. “ Verbis Legis non est recedendum”. From the words of the legislature, there should be no departure. A word gets colour from the context in which it is used. In case the meaning of a word changes due to the passage of time, the word should be taken to mean as to what it meant at the time the statute was enacted.

R.Gleave, Literal meaning, and interpretation,2012 defined as a statue shall not be interpreted so as to be inconsistent with other statutes. The literal rule of interpretation restricts courts to stick to the natural meaning of the given words. The judge can not modify the language of the act.

Materials and methods :

Non-Doctrinal research can be qualitative or quantitative. It can be part of a large-scale project in the law. The sample size is 1774. The researcher has obtained materials from both method that is primary data collection method, and secondary method, thus as a primary data the researcher has collected sampling from the general public by questionnaire and secondary data from various sources like books, journals, and published articles, etc for the development of the study.

Research design :

Type of research Empirical/Non doctrinal
sampling Random sampling
Methods of Data collection survey method
sampling size 1774
Analysis Percentage Analysis and Chi Square and correlation

Research tools – SPSS:
The researcher has used statistical package for the social sciences, for complex statistical data analysis.

Limitations of the study :

  • Due to time constraints, the researcher has only concentrated on a limited number of samples.
  • Defects of the survey
  • Sample constraint

Data analysis and Frequency Table:

Table 1:

2. Gender *11.Whether courts interpret the statutes in the literal and ordinary sense in the literal rule of interpretation?

Crosstab
Count 
  11.Whether courts interpret the statutes in the literal and ordinary sense in the literal rule of interpretation?  
  strongly agree agree neutral disagree strongly disagree  
2. Gender male 431 113 461 154 52  
  female 123 163 157 112 8  
Total 554 276 618 266 60  
Crosstab
Count 
  Total
   
2. Gender male 1211
  female 563
Total 1774
Chi-Square Tests
  Value df Asymptotic Significance (2-sided)
Pearson Chi-Square 152.361a 4 .000
Likelihood Ratio 147.174 4 .000
Linear-by-Linear Association 2.417 1 .120
N of Valid Cases 1774    
a. 0 cells (0.0%) have expected count less than 5. The minimum expected count is 19.04.
Symmetric Measures
  Value Asymptotic Standardized Errora Approximate Tb Approximate Significance
Interval by Interval Pearson’s R .037 .023 1.555 .120c
Ordinal by Ordinal Spearman Correlation .043 .023 1.801 .072c
N of Valid Cases 1774      

The research question is whether courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.554 persons strongly agree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.276 persons agree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.618 persons are neutral that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.266 persons to disagree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.60 persons strongly disagree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation. The chi square value is above 0.05 and the null hypothesis is proved.

Table 2:

2. Gender * 12.Whether the literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice?

Crosstab
Count 
  12.Whether literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice?  
  strongly agree agree neutral disagree strongly disagree  
2. Gender male 476 179 269 215 72  
  female 179 169 159 38 18  
Total 655 348 428 253 90  
Crosstab
Count 
  Total
   
2. Gender male 1211
  female 563
Total 1774
Chi-Square Tests
  Value df Asymptotic Significance (2-sided)
Pearson Chi-Square 95.502a 4 .000
Likelihood Ratio 97.688 4 .000
Linear-by-Linear Association 6.959 1 .008
N of Valid Cases 1774    
a. 0 cells (0.0%) have expected count less than 5. The minimum expected count is 28.56.
Symmetric Measures
  Value Asymptotic Standardized Errora Approximate Tb Approximate Significance
Interval by Interval Pearson’s R -.063 .022 -2.642 .008c
Ordinal by Ordinal Spearman Correlation -.041 .022 -1.745 .081c
N of Valid Cases 1774      

The research question is whether the literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 655 persons strongly agree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 348 persons agree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 428 persons are neutral on the literary rule of interpretation contain ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 253 persons disagree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 90 persons strongly disagree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. The chi square value is above 0.05 and the null hypothesis is proved.

Discussion:

The research question is whether courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.554 persons strongly agree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.276 persons agree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.618 persons are neutral that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.266 persons to disagree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation.60 persons strongly disagree that courts interpret the statutes in literal and ordinary sense in literal rule of interpretation. The chi square value is above 0.05 and the null hypothesis is proved.

The research question is whether the literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 655 persons strongly agree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 348 persons agree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 428 persons are neutral on the literary rule of interpretation contain ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 253 persons disagree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. 90 persons strongly disagree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice. The chi square value is above 0.05 and the null hypothesis is proved.Lowe & Potter 2018; Katzmann 2014; Sarathi 1975; Kafaltiya 2008; Devenish 1992; Sarathi 1986; Wilson et al. 2018; Eskridge et al. 1994)

Findings:

  • 554 persons strongly agree that courts interpret the statutes in the literal and ordinary sense in the literal rule of interpretation.
  • 655 persons strongly agree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice.
  • 348 persons agree literary rule of interpretation contains ambiguity/ incompleteness in dispensing justice.

Conclusion:

The literal rule of interpretation is the primary rule. Under the literal rule of interpretation, the Courts interpret the statutes in a literal and ordinary sense. They interpret the words of the statute in a way that is commonly used by all. It is incumbent on the court to utilize the grammatical meaning of interpretation. The statutes should be construed or interpreted in such a manner as though there is no other meaning except the literal meaning. It is an old and traditional rule of interpretation of statutes. This rule of interpretation is used not only in England where it originated but also in India. The courts must evaluate that a provision is ambiguous only if it contains a word or phrase which has more than one or many meaning. If the interpretation is open to different meanings in one context it is ambiguous but if it is susceptible to different meanings in different contexts it is plain.

Recommendations:

Since the rule is to stick to the exact words of the statute few lawmen say that it is like imposing a rule even when you know that it is not right. If the court applies literal rule and feels that the interpretation is morally wrong then they cannot avoid giving the interpretation. Some criticize this rule by saying that the rule stress or focus on the erroneous assumption that words have a fixed meaning. In fact when the words are imprecise, leading justices to impose their own prejudices to determine the appropriate meaning of a statute. According to Black’s law dictionary, “This type of construction treats statutory and contractual words with highly restrictive readings.

Paper pile references:

1.Anon, 1933. Statutes. Construction. Literal Interpretation Contrary to Apparent Intention. Harvard Law Review, 46(3), p.529. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1332325.

2.B., S., Literal Interpretation Versus Liberal Interpretation. SSRN Electronic Journal. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2290872.

3.Devenish, G.E., 1992. Interpretation of Statutes,

4.Driedger, E.A., 1983. The Construction of Statutes, Butterworth-Heinemann.

5.Eskridge, W.N., Eskridge, W.N., Jr. & John a Garver Professor of Jurisprudence William N Eskridge, 1994. Dynamic Statutory Interpretation, Harvard University Press.

6.Gurjar, E., Literal Rule: A Tool for Statutory Interpretation. SSRN Electronic Journal. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2002873.

7.Jha, S. & Zaveri, A., 2017. Working of Section 153A of the Income Tax Act, 1961: Resolving the Conflict between the Literal Rule of Interpretation and Harmonious Construction. Christ University Law Journal, 6(2), pp.45–60. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.12728/culj.11.3.

8.Kafaltiya, A.B., 2008. Interpretation Of Statutes, Universal Law Publishing.

9.Katzmann, R.A., 2014. Judicial Interpretation of Statutes. Judging Statutes, pp.29–54. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199362134.003.0004.

10.Lowe, D. & Potter, C., 2018. Understanding Legislation: A Practical Guide to Statutory Interpretation, Bloomsbury Publishing.

11.Mincy, J.C., An Examination Of The Literal Interpretation Of Genesis 3. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2986/tren.003-0071.

12.Popkin, W.D., 2012. Contemporary Statutory Interpretation. Statutes in Court, pp.151–155. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/9780822398202-007.

13.Sarathi, V.P., 1986. Interpretation of Statutes,

14.Sarathi, V.P., 1975. The interpretation of statutes,

15.Wilson, S. et al., 2018. 4. The interpretation of statutes. Law Trove. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/he/9780198808152.003.0004.

16..Kafaltiya, A.B., 2008. Interpretation Of Statutes, Universal Law Publishing.

17. Literal Rule: A Tool for Statutory Interpretation. SSRN Electronic Journal. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2002873.

18. Literal Interpretation Versus Liberal Interpretation. SSRN Electronic Journal. Available

19.E.A., 1983. The Construction of Statutes, Butterworth-Heinemann.

20.Contemporary Statutory Interpretation. Statutes in Court, pp.151–155. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/9780822398202-007.

Plagiarism:


[1] M.Gayathri, IV year BA LLB (HONS), Saveetha School of Law,  Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences(SIMATS),  Saveetha University, Chennai -77, Mail id: mgayathri821@gmail.com

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