Presumptions in Statutory Interpretation

Presumptions in Statutory Interpretation

  • Introduction:

The word ‘Interpretation’ is derived from the Latin term ‘interpretari’ which means to explain or expound or to understand or translate. Interpretation is a process through which one arrives at the true and correct intention of the law-making body which is laid in the form of statutes. This helps in finding out the intention of the author.

Interpretation of any data generally means to analyze the available data and come out with an opinion which is certain and clear. This increases the ability of an individual to understand and explain it in his/her own way. This helps to find out the ways to understand and analyse the statute, where it leads the interpreter to the whole new meaning which is completely different from the general meaning.

It is necessary for all law students, lawyers, judges and anyone who belongs to the legal fraternity to know how to interpret the statute whenever a legislative house comes up with a new statute or an amendment because they will be dealing with these legislations on a day to day basis. The main intention of analyzing is to know the new changes which are being brought due to the legislation and the impacts of that legislation in society.

Usually, the interpretation of the statute is done by the judges, it is the primary function of the judge as a judicial head. As we all know that our government is divided into three important wings which are: Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. Here the legislature lays down the law and intends people to act according to the legislature and the judiciary, that is judges will come up with the proper meaning of the law and put the law into operation. This helps in maintaining checks and balances between the wings.

It is presumed that statutes are

  1. Valid:

There is a presumption in law that the statutes are valid. The legislature does not intend to enact a law which ultra-vires the Constitution.

The acts which are either passed by the Parliament, or by the State legislature or by their subordinate bodies, should not cross the constitutional boundaries. No laws can be enacted which are against the provisions and spirit of the constitution. If there are two interpretations, one that saves the Act from becoming unconstitutional and the other that makes the statute void, then in such a case, the interpretation that renders the Act constitutional should be followed.

There is a presumption in favour of the constitutionality of an Act. one who alleges against the constitutionality of an enactment, must show that there is a transgression of the constitutional boundaries.

When the validity of the statute made by the competent legislature is challenged, the court must presume that the statute is valid. Though it is presumed that the Act is constitutional, if the Act on the face of it is arbitrary and discriminatory, then the presumption cannot stand. If there is any doubt about the constitutional validity of any law, the benefit of doubt should be in the favour of the constitutional validity of an Act. The Court should assume that the legislature has not committed a mistake and out-lined the intention in the Act what it intended. It is presumed that the legislature has expressed its intention in the Act what it intended. It is presumed that the legislature has expressed its intention in appropriate words. Every word used by the legislature, must be given its due importance. Unless it is proved that the legislation has transgressed the constitutional limits, it must be presumed to be constitutionally valid.

When the meaning of the statutory language gives two meanings, the statute should be construed in such a way so as to give it constitutional validity, and not to raise any doubts about its constitutional validity. This rule is applicable even to bye-laws and constitutional Amendments Act.

  • Case law-
  1. Govindlalji V. State of Rajasthan-

The constitutional validity of “the Rajasthan Nathdwara Temple Act” was challenged. Under Section 16 of the said Act, words “affairs of temple” were construed as restricted to the secular affairs, and as such had to be constitutionally valid. If a wider construction would have been given to the said Section, it would have violated Articles 25 and 26 of the constitution.

2) Territorial in Operation:

The general rule for an act of parliament is that it is applicable only within the territories of the Country in which it is enacted, unless otherwise provided.

Thus, the statutes passed, will bind within boundaries of the country in which it extends. The extra-territorial operation is forbidden. But according to Article 245(2) of the constitution of India, No act made by the Parliament shall be deemed to be invalid on the ground that it would have extra territorial operation. Courts are bound to enforce such legislation. For example, “The Indian penal Code, 1860” is extra territorial in nature. According to section 3, any person bound by Indian Law, committing any offence outside India, shall be tried in India, As if he has committed that offence in India,

Section 4 says that, IPC applies to any offence committed by any citizen of India in any place without or beyond India, and by any person on any ship or air-craft registered in India, wherever in the world it may be.

Various state-legislatures in the country are empowered to enact a law for the6 whole of the state or any part of the state. The laws passed by the state legislatures, are for the purpose of that state only such law, in the absence of any territorial connection, cannot have any extra-territorial operations.

In order that a territorial connection is sufficient, two things are to be considered, they are-

i) the territorial connection should be real and factual, and not illusory

ii) The liability under the Act sought to be enforced, must be related to that territorial connection only.

  • Case law-
  1. Ajay Agarwal V. Union of India-

The supreme court held that the offence of criminal conspiracy is in the nature of continuing offence. Therefore, the acts which constitute criminal conspiracy whether committed in Dubai or Chandigarh, is immaterial. The offence can be tried in India under Section 4 of the IPC.

  1. K.K. Kochari V. The state of Madras-

The Supreme court held that the laws made by the state legislature apply within the boundaries of the concerned state. It can be challenged for its extra-territorial operation, because Article 245(2) of the constitution of India empowers only the Union parliament to make extra-territorial laws.

3) Jurisdiction:

There is a presumption that, an interpretation that takes away the jurisdictions of the courts, must not be given effect, unless the words of the statute provide so in clear and explicit terms.

There is strong presumption that civil courts have jurisdiction to all cases which are civil in nature. The exclusion of jurisdiction of civil courts is not to be readily inferred. Same is true with criminal cases.

The basis of this presumption is that courts should be accessible to all those who want justice and the status quo about the state of law should be maintained. Unless the jurisdiction of the court is ousted by the legislature in clear words or by necessary implication, the courts should be presumed to have jurisdiction. The construction of statute that takes away the jurisdiction of the superior courts or extends or jurisdiction by giving right to appeal, should be avoided.

Strict construction should be given to the statutes that confer jurisdiction on the subordinate courts, tribunals, or government agencies. If a construc-tion of an act does not clearly say that the intention of the legislature is to oust the jurisdiction of the court, then the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts of judicature is not taken away. When the jurisdiction is conferred by the statute, it is implied that the act has also given power to do all such acts as necessary for its execution.

Special powers granted by an Act must be limited to the purpose for which it is granted. The power of control by the superior courts, cannot be taken away except by the express provision of the Statute. Unless the words of a statute provide for it can be inferred from the words of a statute, there is a presumption that neither new jurisdiction of the courts are created, nor the existing jurisdiction enlarged.

Since the legislation gives the jurisdiction to the courts, it is only the legislation which can take away the jurisdiction. If the interpretation of an act gives two constructions, one giving jurisdiction to the court and the other taking away the jurisdiction, then the construction which gives the jurisdiction to the court, must be given effect. If there is a dispute between two parties, then by mutual consent they can neither create a jurisdiction, nor can they take away the same, from the court in which their dispute can be tried.

There is a general presumption that civil courts have the jurisdiction to try all the civil matters. The exclusion of civil jurisdiction of the court must be in express terms or by clear implication. The general rule is that, there exists a jurisdiction in a court to try all the civil matters. The burden of proof to prove that the jurisdiction of civil courts is excluded is on the person who alleges such an exclusion. In the cases where the jurisdiction of the courts is excluded, the civil courts have power to examine whether the provisions of the statute are complied with. Also the civil courts have power to ascertain that the prescribed procedure of the law has been followed by the tribunal created by the statute. If the provisions of the statute or the necessary judicial procedure is not complied with, then such non-compliance can be challenged in the court of law. This principle is based on the presumption that a remedy in the ordinary civil courts must always be available to the aggrieved person. In addition to the remedies provided by the statute, ordinary remedy must also be available, except if it is excluded by the express language of the statute or by necessary implication.

  • Case laws-
  1. Provincial government of Madras (now Andhra pradesh) V. J.S. Bassappa-

The Supreme Court held that the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the civil court must not be construed readily. If the provisions of an act gives the finality to the orders of the Authority as enacted, civil courts still have the jurisdiction in the matter, if the provisions of the Act are not complied with ot the statutory tribunal has failed to follow the principles of judicial procedure.

  1. Bhimsi V. Dundappa-

The Supreme Court held that, if the revenue court is given the exclusive jurisdiction to try certain matters and the jurisdiction of the civil court is totally excluded, then the civil court should transfer such matters to be tried and adjudicated by the revenue court only.

4) Prospective in Operation of Statutes:

The dictionary meaning of the word prospective with reference to statutes shows that it is concerned with or applying the laws in future or at least from the date of commencement of the statute. It is to be noted that the Doctrine of Prospective overruling was evolved by the Supreme Court for the first time in India in I.C. Golak Nath Vs. State of Punjab A.I.R. 1967 SC 1643. In this case the Supreme Court held that the Parliament had no power to amend the fundamental rights. Chief Justice Subba Rao posed the questions as to when Parliament could not affect fundamental rights by enacting a bill under its ordinary legislative process even unanimously, how could it then abrogate a fundamental right with only a two third majority and while amendment of less significant Articles of the Constitution require ratification by a majority of States of the Union, how could a fundamental right be amended without this requirement being fulfilled. The learned judge was of the view that the word ‘law’ Art. 13 (2) means both ordinary law as well as constitutional law. Consequently, the state was not empowered to make any constitutional amendment which takes away or abridged fundamental rights as ‘law’ includes ‘amendment’ as well. Thus, while holding that the Parliament was not empowered to amend fundamental rights, the five learned judges jointly declared that the principle would operate only in future and it had no retrospective effect. Therefore, the name ‘prospective overruling’. The effect of the decision was that all amendments made with respect to the fundamental rights till the day of the decision in the case would continue to remain valid and effective, and after that date the Parliament would have no power to amend any of the fundamental rights contained in Part III of the Constitution.

Penal statutes have prospective operation. Article 20 of the Constitution of India restricts the retrospective operation of the Penal statutes. An act which is legal when it was done, cannot be made illegal by enacting a new statute.

  • Case laws:
  1. Gramma V. Veerupana-

Section 8 of “The Hindu Succession Act, 1956” provides that, if a Hindu male dies intestate, his property will devolve as per the provisions of the Act.

The Supreme Court held that the Act is not applicable to those successions which opened before the Act came into operation (i.e. successions prior to the year 1956). Thus, it has only prospective operation.

  1. Govind Das V. Income Tax officer-

“The income tax act, 1961” came into force on 1st april, 1962. Section 171(6) of the Act imposes the joint and several liability on the members of the HUF to pay tax assessed on the HUF property, if the assessment is already completed and it is found that the family has already affected partition.

The Supreme Court held that section 171(6) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 will not apply to assessments which were made prior to 1st April, 1962.

  • Exceptions to Prospective operation of statutes:

Procedural statutes are also known as adjunctival statutes. They do not confer any rights or create any new rights.

Statutes dealing with procedural matters are presumed to have retrospective operation.

Retrospective operation of statutes means a statute will have effect on the matters prior to the date on which the Act has come into force. Retrospective means it will be effective from the date previous to the date on which the statutes come into force. A statute may be expressly declared retrospective or it may be implied by the court as retrospective. When the statute explains or supplies an omission in an earlier enactment, it is presumed to be retrospective. A retrospective operation should not be given to an act that will impair an existing right or an obligation. If an enactment gives two interpretations, one retrospective and the other prospective, then it must be construed as prospective only. This rule is based on the presumption that the legislature never intended what is unjust. Every new Act should affect only the future and not the past. There is a presumption that a statute applies to acts or circumstances which came into existence after the Act came into existence, unless the legislature intended to apply it retrospectively.

When the procedural law is amended, the amendment has a retrospective effect. A declaratory Act is given a retrospective operation, because a declaratory act removes the doubts as to meaning and effect of the statute. The intention behind passing the declaratory Act, is to set aside the Judicial error.

The rule that, generally the statutes will not give a retrospective operation, is a rebuttable presumption. It can be rebutted with strong contrary evidence. A statute should not be given greater retrospective operation than what is intended by the legislature in the words of the statute.

If a court declares an Act as void, then the parliament can pass the validating act having retrospective effect to revive the void Act. Retrospective operation of penal law is prohibited. It has to be prohibited expressly by Article 20(1) of the constitution of India. But if the Penal law benefits the accused, it can be given retrospective effect.

  • Case laws:
  1. Balumar Jamnadas Batra V. State of Maharashtra-

Section 123 of the customs Act, 1962, dealt with the burden of proof. The Supreme Court held that section 123 deals with matters of procedure, and therefore, it will have retrospective operation.

  1. Reliance Jute and Industries limited V. Commissioner of Income Tax-

The Supreme Court held that while the Taxing statute is interpreted, the law in force in the relevant assessment year, has to be applied, unless there is an express contrary provision or contrary intention that appears from necessary implications.

  1. Collector of Central Excise, Ahmedabad V. Ashoka Mills Limited-

The supreme court held that, the date on which the goods are cleared, the rate at which the excise duty is prevalent on that date, is to be applied. If after the goods are cleared, there is any change in the rate of excise duty, then the changed rate of excise duty cannot be applied to the goods which have been already cleared i.e. it will not have retrospective effect.

  1. Union of India V.  L. Ramaswamy-

The Supreme Court held that if a rule “x” is substituted by rule “y”, then the old rule “x” which is substituted by a new rule “y” will not be applicable under any circumstances from the date on which it ceased to have forced a law.

  1. Punjab Traders V. State of Punjab-

The Supreme Court held that if in any statute the meaning of an existing provision is already implied, and such implied meaning is subsequently clarified by the legislature by amending the statute, then the amending statute will have retrospective operation.

  • Landmark judgments:

The Supreme Court repeatedly made it clear that in order to give effect to an amendment retrospectively, it should be clearly mentioned in the enactment that the Act is supposed to have retrospective operation. In the case of P.Mahendran and Others v. State of Karnataka and others, the apex court observed that the amended set of Recruitment Rules, 1987 was not of a retrospective nature and was instead of a prospective one. Therefore, the Karnataka Public Service Commission was not supposed to make any kind of regulation or determination of selection of members on the basis of the rules after the commencement of the same. If such selection was made, the same would be declared as illegal. The court made its judgment on the grounds that there were no provisions for making a retrospective effect in the Rules, 1987. 

In the absence of similar provision, the Rules were to prospective effect only. In the recognised case of CIT Mumbai v. M/s Essar Teleholdings Ltd, the Supreme Court mentioned that the legislature wing of the government has been vested with plenary powers to decide whether an amendment is to operate prospectively or retrospectively. Further, in general observation, the legislature considers any statute prima facie to be prospective only unless the statute has been expressly by necessary implication made to operate retrospectively. 

In National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India v Union of India, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that retrospective amendments will amount to be unconstitutional if there is less clarification on the part of the enactment which intends to overturn the previous decisions of the court or bring in a change in the existing law.

In the case of Rohtas Bhankhar and Others v. Union of India and Another, the court declared that whenever a retrospective amendment is to be made, it should be taken into concern that the amendment does not have an adverse effect on the public at large. In this case,  a relaxation was provided to the candidates belonging to the category of Scheduled  Caste and Scheduled Tribe for a competitive exam giving a retrospective effect to an existing statute.


  • Conclusion:

From the above discussions and observation, it can be inferred that constitutional legitimacy with respect to the retrospective amendment is still under a hold. On some grounds, it is held to be valid while majorly it is considered to be inconsistent with the judgments delivered by the courts. Courts, therefore, directed that it is only in exceptional cases that the retrospective amendments will have an effect. Judgments made by the apex court in concern with these amendments have sought clarity and fairness from the same because it is not correct to take away the rights and obligations that have already been conferred to an individual based on the existing law for the sake of the implementation of a retrospective amendment. This by itself stands against the Constitution of India in several ways.

Therefore, the necessity to keep a check on the retrospective amendments is necessary to maintain the integrity of the Constitution. As far as the conflict between the legislature and the judiciary is concerned, the legislature must make sure that it allows a legislature to operate retrospectively only when it is extremely necessary and in a way help the judiciary to deliver pending judgments. Similarly, the judiciary should carry the responsibility to keep the movement of the legislature in check thereby keeping the Constitution of India intact. Therefore, both these organs must work interdependently for better regulation of statutes in the country. 

  • References:

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at

We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.