Statutes Interpretation and rules related to the interpretation
“The essence of law lies in the spirit, not in its letter, for the letter is significant only as being the external manifestation of the intention that underlies it” – Salmond
Parliament creates laws and thereafter these laws are interpreted by Judges by applying the rules, rules which are related to interpretation. During the drafting, the draftsmen take into consideration that statutes possess the characteristics of clarity and are free from ambiguity. Even then also those statutes may comprise words that have uncertain meanings and with the period and progression of society, the old statutes may comprise words that may not be used considering the present scenario. Further, Parliament may have left some errors unnoticed and this leads to a situation that requires the Judges to interpret the Statues.
Understanding the legislation properly, taking into consideration the intention, is known as the interpretation of Statues.
Courts are not expected to arbitrarily interpret the statute and while interpreting court has to exercise certain principles, these principles are called ‘rules of interpretation’ or ‘the canons of interpretations’. These rules of interpretation are mentioned below :
- The Literal Rule.
- Mischief Rule: Heydon’s Rule
- Golden Rule.
- Harmonious Construction
- Rule of beneficial construction
- Rule of exceptional construction
- Noscitur a sociis
- Ejusdem Generis
- Reddendo Singula Singulis
Doctrine of ejusdem generis
Meaning and definition
‘Ejusdem Generis’ is a Latin term and the meaning of it is “of the same kind and nature”.
According to the Black’s Law Dictionary (8th edition, 2004.), “the principle of Ejusdem Generis is where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things by particular and specific words. Not only these general words are construed but also held as applying only to persons or things of the same general kind as those specifically enumerated.”
- This doctrine is also called Lord Tenterden’s Rule, which is an ancient doctrine. The Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis says that when a list of specific words is being followed by the general words, the general words are interpreted in a way to restrict them to include the items or things that will be of the same type as those of the specific words .” For example, if a law refers to cars, trucks, tractors, bikes, and other motor-powered vehicles, then the general word which is ‘other motor-powered vehicles’ will not include any planes or ships because the specific words preceding are of the kind of land transports and when the doctrine of ejusdem generis is applied then that general word will be restricted to includes the things of the same category as that of the specific words.
The doctrine of Ejusdem Generis: Need
Interpretation of the statute by the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis arises when-
- Ambiguity in the language of the provisions of statutes exists, or
- In the provision, there is a possibility of two views, or
- The meaning that the provision of a statute gives, defeats the purpose of the statute.
If the language of the statute is clear and no ambiguity arises there is no need for interpretation
Unless the context requires it, the general words should be provided with natural meaning. In the case of Lilawati Bai v. Bombay State, 1957 Supreme Court, the Court observed that “where the context and the object and mischief of the enactment do not require restricted meaning to be attached to words of general import, the Court must give those words their plain and ordinary meaning.”
However, if there arises some ambiguity in the provisions of the Statute during the course of reading and the statute intends to restrict the general words to the category of the specific words, then this doctrine of ejusdem generis comes into the picture and this doctrine becomes applicable.
Ejusdem generis: a facet of noscitur a sociis
In the case of the Maharashtra University of Health and others Vs Satchikitsa Prasarak Mandal & Others, 2010 Supreme Court courtobserved that“soccer” is a Latin word, which means “society”. “Noscitur a sociis”is a Latin maxim that means that “the term in a statute is to be recognized by the associated words”. The doctrine of ejusdem generis is a facet of Noscitur a sociis. “Therefore, when general words are juxtaposed with specific words, general words cannot be read in isolation. Their color and their contents are to be derived from their context
The Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis: Essentials
In the case of Amar Chandra Chakraborty v. Collector of Excise, 1972 Supreme Court and Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board v. Harishanker, 1979 Supreme Courtthe five essential conditions for the application of this rule were provided which are mentioned below :
- The statute contains an enumeration of specific words,
- The subjects of enumeration constitute a class or category;
- That class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration;
- The general terms follow the enumeration; and
- There is no indication of a different legislative intent.”
From the above discussion, it may be concluded that two elements must exist for the application of the doctrine of ejusdem generis which are: the specific words should constitute a particular class or genus and the intention of the legislation should be there for such restriction of the general words.
Relevant Case Regarding Applicability
Siddeshwari Cotton Mills (P) Ltd v. UOI, 1989 Supreme Court
In the above-mentioned case, the Supreme Court applied the rule of ejusdem generis during the course of interpreting the general words ‘any other process’ under section 2(f) of the Central Excise & Salt Act, 1944 read with Notification Number 230 and 231 dated 15-07-1977. This general word followed the specific words which were “bleaching, mercerizing, dyeing, printing, water-proofing, rubberizing, shrink-proofing, organic processing”. The Court here by applying the doctrine of ejusdem generis held that “the specific words form a class of process which is importing a change which is of lasting nature. And therefore ‘any other word’ must share one or any other of that process/incident”.
The doctrine of Ejusdem Generis: Limitations
For the application of the rule of ejusdem generis, there must be a few conditions that have been mentioned above, in the absence, this rule can not be applied. The existence of a genus /class in the specified words that the intention of the legislation was there to read the statute in that way is one among them. So it can be concluded that the Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is not applicable in the below-mentioned situations :
- If the general words are there before the specified words then this doctrine is not applicable. So it can be said that specific words must be followed by general words. Department of Customer Vs Sharad Gandhi, 2019 Supreme Court
- If the specific words in the provision of the statute which are been followed by the general words do not form a distinct genus/class then this rule cannot be applied. As this is the most important factor to restrict the general word to the same genus as the specified words by using the rule of ejusdem generic. In the case of Jagdish Chandra Gupta v. Kajaria Traders (India) Ltd, 1964 Supreme Court, the Court stated that whenever specific words are been followed by general words, the interpretation of ejusdem generis does not need to be applied. Before such interpretation, there must be a category or a genus constituted so that the general words concerning it can be restricted, as intended.
- The doctrine of ejusdem generis is also not applicable if the general word follows only one word as that one word cannot form a distinct class/genus subject to the exception that the general words if following a one-word genus that has been created by the court then that general word can be restricted to that genus of one word
- If the specified words exhaust the whole genus/class then this doctrine is not applicable.
- Contrary intention of legislation for the application of the rule exists, then also the rule of ejusdem generis is not applicable In many decided cases, it has been held that the doctrine of ejusdem generis is “not an inviolable rule of law”. It is “permissible inference in the absence of an indication to the contrary”.
Relevant Case Regarding Non Applicability
It is not a thumb rule that whenever there are some specific words, followed by general words, then the applicability of this rule arises. The conditions when this rule cannot be applied are being discussed. Hence when these conditions exist, the court does not apply this doctrine of Ejusdem ‘generis. This is a rule of interpretation that may or may not be applied, depending on the intention of the legislation and the other essential conditions
Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union Of India
Here in this case the question was regarding the interpretation of the general phrase “any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp”. This was in the Fruit Products Order, 1955, which was passed under section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Through the order, the obligation was made that in fruit syrup, the peonage of fruit juice should be 25. The contention made by the petitioner was that, to its product which is Rooh Afza, the order will not be applied because the order provided “squashes, crushes, cordials, barley water, barreled juice, and ready-to-serve beverages or any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp”. Further by applying the ejusdem generis, the general phrase will be restricted to the specified words.
This contention was rejected by the Supreme Court which concluded that the ejusdem generis rule is not applicable reason being the things mentioned before the general phrase do not constitute a distinct genus. Context makes it clear that there was an intention that all other beverages which contain fruit juice should also be included.
Here the Supreme Court provided that the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is not applicable as of reason that the words preceding the general words did not constitute a distinct genus/class.
Ejusdem Generis, which is considered a canon of interpretation is used by judges in case there is a lack of clarity and ambiguity arises in the provisions of the Statute and thereby providing clarity taking into consideration the intention of the legislature, and thereby properly fulfilling the purpose of the legislation. So it can be said that this doctrine must be applied with due care and caution by the Courts by taking into consideration the circumstances where this doctrine is to be applied and where not, along with considering its essential elements and exceptions
Constitution of India
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