Aids to interpretation of law

An aid is a device that helps or assists Courts in interpretation of statues. They can be broadly classified as:

• Internal Aids

• External Aids

Internal aids

to construction Internal aids of construction refer to aids present within the statue itself, such as the long title, the preamble, heading, marginal notes, punctuations, definition sections, provisos and explanations. 

Explanations – Explanation is generally meant to explain or clarify the meaning of certain words and expressions contained in the main provision. Explanation appended to a section is an integral part of the section. It does not have independent existence apart from the section. In exceptional cases an explanation may widen the scope of the main section by introducing a legal fiction.

Provisos – Generally the function of a proviso is to carve out an exception or to qualify a provision. A proviso cannot control the enactment. A proviso is not applicable unless the main provision is applicable to the facts of the case. It must be construed harmoniously with the main provision.

Non-obstante clause – Non-obstante clause is a clause which begins with the phrase “notwithstanding anything contained in any other provision of the Act” or “notwithstanding anything contained in a particular provision(s) of the Act”. Use of this phrase shows that the intent of lawmakers is to give it an overriding effect, in case of a conflict, over the other provisions of the statute mentioned in the provision.

Marginal notes and headings – Headings may be prefixed to a section or a group of sections. Marginal notes are the notes which are inserted at the side of the sections in a statute and express the effect of the sections stated. Headings and marginal notes cannot control the plain words of the provisions. Only in the case of ambiguity they may be referred to throw light on intention of legislature.

Definition clauses and undefined words –The object of a definition clause is to avoid the necessity of frequent repetitions in describing the subject matter in the statute. When the statute defines a particular word, the same should be used, unless the context otherwise. requires. A word occurring more than once in a statute should be generally given the same meaning, unless the context requires otherwise. Words not specifically defined must be taken in their legal sense, dictionary meaning, commercial or common meaning. Definition from any other statute cannot be borrowed and used ignoring the definition contained in the statute itself.

External aids

 External aids refer to aids which are external to the statue such as legislative history, dictionaries, foreign decisions, reference to other statues.

Legislative history – Historical setting cannot be used as an aid if the words are plain and clear. If the wordings are ambiguous, one can look at the historical facts and circumstances that prevailed at the time when the law was passed for determining the object and purpose. Reports of Commissions including Law Commission or Committees including Parliamentary Committees preceding the introduction of a bill can also be referred to as evidence of historical facts, surrounding circumstances or mischief intended to be remedied.

Circulars – CBDT Circulars issued under section 119 of the Income-tax Act, 1961 are binding on the tax officers and persons employed in the execution of the Income-tax Act 1961. They express the views of CBDT on any issue. They are, however, not binding on the Appellate Authorities, Tribunal, Courts or the taxpayer. Taxpayers can however take benefit of the beneficial circulars.

Speech – The speech made by the mover of the Bill can also be used to ascertain the mischief sought to be remedied, the object and purpose of the legislation. However, speeches made by the Members of the Parliament at the time of consideration of a Bill, are not admissible as an aid.

Explanatory Memorandum – Notes on clauses and memorandum explaining the provisions of the Finance Bill can also aid in construction, in case of ambiguity.

Dictionary meaning – The dictionary meaning of a word should not be looked at where the word has been statutorily defined or judicially interpreted. However, when there is no such interpretation or definition, the Court may take aid of dictionaries to ascertain a meaning of the word.

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