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Friday, May 28, 2010

Extrinsic Material: Supreme Court Of India

The Indain position in regard to the reference to the extrinsic aid is nicely summed up in the following:

"The rule of grammatical construction has been accepted in India before and after Independence. In the State of Travancore- Cochin and Ors. v. Bombay Company Ltd., Alleppey, (AIR 1952 S.C. 366), Chief Justice Patanjali Sastri delivering the judgment of the Court, said :-

"It remains only to point out that the use made by the learned Judges below of the speeches made by the members of the Constituent Assembly in the course of the debates on the draft Constitution is unwarranted. That this form of extrinsic aid to the interpretation of statutes is not admissible has been generally accepted in England, and the same rule has been observed in the <<construction of Indian statutes- see Administrator-General of Bengal v. Prem Lal Mullick, 22 Ind. Appl.107 (P.C.) at p. 118. The reason behind the rule was explained by one of us in Gopalan v. State of Madras, (1950) S.C.R. 88 thus :

A speech made in the course of the debate on a bill could at best be indicative of the subjective intent of the speaker, but it could not reflect the inarticulate mental process lying behind the majority vote which carried the bill. Nor is it reasonable to assume that the minds of all those legislators were in accord".

Or, as it is more tersely put in an American case- "Those who did not speak may not have agreed with those who did; and those who spoke might differ from each other- United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association, (1897) 169 U.S. 290 at p.

318 (sic).

This rule of exclusion has not always been adhered to in America, and sometimes distinction is made between using such material to ascertain the purpose of a statute and using it for ascertaining its meaning. It would seem that the rule is adopted in Canada and Australia-see Craies on Statute Law, 5th Edn. p. 122 (pp. 368-9)".

11. In the American jurisdiction, a more natural note has sometimes been struck. Mr. Justice Frankfurter was of the view that- "If the purpose of construction is the ascertainment of meaning, nothing that is logically relevant should be excluded, and yet, the Rule of Exclusion, which is generally followed in England, insists that, in interpreting statutes, the proceedings in the Legislatures, including speeches delivered when the statute was discussed and adopted, cannot be cited in courts."

12. Crawford on Statutory Construction at page 388 notes that- "The judicial opinion on this point is certainly not quite uniform and there are American decisions to the effect that the general history of a statute and the various steps leading up to an enactment including amendments or modifications of the original bill and reports of Legislative Committees can be looked at for ascertaining the intention of the legislature where it is in doubt; but they hold definitely that the legislative history is inadmissible when there is no obscurity in the meaning of the statute."

The Rule of Exclusion has been criticised by jurists as artificial. The trend of academic opinion and the practice in the European system suggest that interpretation of a statute being an exercise in the ascertainment of meaning, everything which is logically relevant should be admissible. Recently, an eminent Indian jurist has reviewed the legal position and expressed his agreement with Julius Stone and Justice Frankfurter. Of course, nobody suggests that such extrinsic materials should be decisive but they must be admissible. Authorship and interpretation must mutually illumine and interact. There is authority for the proposition that resort may be had to these sources with great caution and only when incongruities and ambiguities are to be resolved. A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950 SCR 88). There is a strong case for whittling down the Rule of Exclusion followed in the British courts and for less apologetic reference to legislative proceedings and like materials to read the meaning of the words of a statute. Where it is plain, the language prevails, but where there is obscurity or lack of harmony with other provisions and in other special circumstances, it may be legitimate to take external assistance such as the object of the provisions, the mischief sought to be remedied, the social context, the words of the authors and other allied matters. The law of statutory construction is a strategic branch of jurisprudence which must, it may be felt, respond to the great social changes but a conclusive pronouncement on the particular point arising here need not detain us because nothing decisive as between the alternative interpretations flows from a reliance on the Constituent Assembly proceedings or the broad purposes of the statutory scheme."

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