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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When to avoid Strict construction of Literal/Plain Meaning Rule-Part-22Part-22

Strict Application of Literal rule to be avoided in certain cases

If breadth of application apparent from the wording of section is misconceived. There is authority for the proposition that to remedy a mistake a strained interpretation of the words is permissible[1]. "There are cases where the result of giving words their ordinary meaning may be so irrational that the court is forced to the conclusion that the draftsman has made a mistake, and the canons of construction are not so rigid as to prevent a realistic solution in such a case.[2]"

Where a strict literal construction leads to a result not intended to subserve the object of the legislation another construction, permissible in the context should be adopted. Therefore, though equity and taxation are often strangers, attempts should be made that these do not remain always so. More so, a taxing statute being not different from other statutes it is not to be construed differently. The duty of the Court is to give effect to the intention of the legislature.[3] To sustain a law by interpretation is the rule.[4] Every word in a Statute is to be given a meaning.[5] A construction that would leave without effect any part of the language of a statute will normally be rejected. Every clause of a statute is to be construed with reference to the context and other clauses of the Act so as to make, as far as possible, a consistent enactment of the whole statute[6].A strict application of the literal rule is no longer in favor. The usual cited authority for this approach is Lord Wensleydale in Grey v Pearson:[7]

" the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity, in which case the ordinary sense of the words may be modified so as to avoid that absurdity and inconsistency but no farther."

While interpreting a Statute a reasonable construction should be followed and literal construction may be avoided if that defeats the manifest object and purpose of the Act[8]. Elementary law textbooks generally describe the `three rules' of statutory interpretation: the literal rule, the `golden rule' and the `mischief rule'. Despite the wide use of these terms, they are not particularly helpful, as will be described.

The rule is well expressed by Tindal CJ in the Sussex peerage Case[9]:

"... the only rule for the construction of Acts of Parliament is, that they should be construed according to the intent of the Parliament which passed the Act. If the words of the statute are in themselves precise and unambiguous, then no more can be necessary than to expound those words in their natural and ordinary sense. The words themselves alone do, in such case, best declare the intention of the lawgiver."

[1]See: MT v Director General, NSW Department of Education & Training [2004] NSWADT 194 (3 September 2004)[New south wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal

[2]See: Cooper Brookes (Wollongong) Pty Ltd v Federal Commissioner of Taxation

[3] CITv. J.H. Gotla, 156 ITR 323 and A.G.V. Carlton Bank,[1899] 2 QB 158, referred to.


[5] A fair presumption[citation not given]


[7] Grey v Pearson (1857) 6 HL Cas 1

[8] Commissioner of Wealth-tax, Bihar & Orissa v. Kripashankar Dayashankar Worah, 81 I.T.R. 763 and Income Tax Commissioners for City of London v. Gibbs, 10 I.T.R. (Suppl.) 121H.L., referred to.

[9] Sussex peerage Case ([1844] 11 Cl;Fin 85)

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