Secondary Rules of Interpretation
The rules or maxims or concepts that come under this category of rules of interpretation are generally considered as “Secondary” or “Subordinate” principles of interpretation. The most important threat for court while interpreting statute in to find the “intention of the legislature. Maxims help to elaborate the meaning of individual words and phrases by drawing certain consequences.
I. Noscitur a Sociis principle
Where the scope of a word which has a wider meaning is limited by referring to the context of the word. This is a situation where a meaning is given to a word by looking at its “context”. One of the main reasons for the application of this principle is because a word of a wide possible meaning may be given a limited meaning by looking at the context in which it appears.
Prior v Sherwood [1]
The court held that a prohibition against betting in any “house, office room or place” did not extend to public lane. The possible wide meaning that could have been given to the word “place” was limited by its use in conjunction with “house, office, and room”, which the court considered to be an enclosed or definable concept.
What is meant by the word “context”?
It means that if there are several words used in a sentence and you wish to find a meaning of a word which is ambiguous the meaning of that word could be arrived at by looking at the other words surrounding that word.
Rex v Harris[2]
• There was a section in a particular statute which made it an offence to “shoot at or to stab, cut or wound any person”.
• When interpreting the word “wound” is restricted by the words which proceeded it because those specific words involving the using of any instrument or weapon to inflict the wound. Consequently, it was the view of the court that the biting of a finger or a nose or the burning of a face was considered not to be words “wound” coming within the meaning of that section.
Commissioner v Savoy Hotel [3]
A provision of a statute which uses the words “manufactured beverages including fruit juices and bottle water and syrups”. The court observed that the distinction of “fruit juices should be construed of in the context of the preceding words and that orange juice unsweetened and freshly pressed was not within the description.
Indian case
• A provision of a statute read “Commercial establishment means an establishment which carried on any business trade or profession”.
• The word “Profession” was construed with the associated words “business” and “trade” and it was held that a private dispensary of a doctor would not come within the definition.
• This rule is not a master of the courts but merely its servant to ascertain the legislature’s intention
• This affords a mere suggestion to the judicial mind.
• Thus, where the intention of the legislature is plain the noscitur principle must give away.
R v Commissioner of Taxes
• The noscitur principle must be applied with caution.
• In the case of most rules of interpretation is only of assistance when there is an ambiguity to the language.
II. Utres magis valeat quam pereat
It is better for a thing to have effect than to made void.
• This means that the courts try to ensure the validity of a statute rather than making it futile or redundant.
• Where the words of a statute are capable of 2 different interpretations, courts must give effect to the interpretation which results in the smooth functioning of the statute and best achieves the legislative establishments.
Manchester Ship Company v Manchester Race Course Company [4]
It was held that unless the words in the statute were absolutely senseless, the judge must find some meaning to the words and should not simply declare it to be void for uncertainty.
Viscount Symons in Nokes v Don Caster Amulgated Ltd [5]
We should void a construction which would reduce the Act to futility and should rather accept the boarder construction based on the view that parliament would legislate only for the purpose of bringing about an effective result.
Nandasena v Senanayaka [6]
• The paddy Land Act 1958 repealed by the 1973 Act.
• The question that arose was as to what will happen to those cases which were held in the Magistrate court under the 1958 Act but which had not been concluded on the date of the commencement of the new legislation.
• It was argued that those cases pending before the MC would laps.
• But Sharvananda J refused to accept this argument applying this Maxim and said such an approach would make the new law one without effect.
Hede Navigation Case [7]
Even if there was an ambiguity that interpretation should be preferred which gives effect to the statute rather than create a lacuna in the law.
Maloney v Metropolitian Police Commission [8]
Held the maxim therefore ought not be applied when its application having concerns to the subject matter to which it is to be applied leads to inconsistency or injustice.
III. Ejusdem Generis principle
This principle is an example of the application of the Noscitur principle. This is where the general words will derive its meaning from the particular and specific words of the same kind or same nature. Since general words can take a broader meaning, it is confined to embrace only things or conduct falling within that category.
Example: –
Animals which may be carried on a ferry there was a reference to “horses, cows, sheep and other animals. Therefore, the word “OTHER ANIMALS” is limited to apply to animals of the same kind as those specifically mentioned, and will not include any other genre of animal such as a lion or a tiger.
Case of Amarachandra [9]
It laid down certain criteria for the application of this principle:
• The section must contain an enumeration (list) of specific words.
• The subject matter of the enumeration should have a class.
• The class is not exhaustive.
• The general term follows the specific enumeration
• There is no different legislative intention.
USA case
THE SC observed that this rule is not a ‘master of the courts’ by merely its servant in order to ascertain the legislature’s intention.
Parker – in the phrase ‘building or other operation’ the word ‘other operation’ should be read as similar to ‘buildings.
However, in certain cases a limited approach of the principle is noticeable.
Quazi v Quazi [10]
In the phrase ‘judicial or other proceedings’ the word ‘other proceedings’ were not confined to judicial proceedings.
AG v Brown [11]
The principle cannot be applied where the application of the principle would produce a result contrary to the legal meaning intended by the parliament.
Madhya Pradesh Electrical Board
If a genus cannot be found the principle cannot be applied.
Australian judged emphasized that the use of this principle is very limited. Denvish emphases that – this principle is a useful aid of construction must be applied with caution the more important thing being to give effect to Parliament’s intention so that the application of this rule should be discouraged where the parliament’s intention appears not clear and ambiguous.
IV. Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius
The express mention of one person or a thing is the exclusion of another.
• In an old English statute. (The Poor Relief Act 1601), Section 1 provided that every occupier of lands, houses, coal mines or saleable under wood should be rated for the relief of the poor, it was decided by the HOL that as “coal mines” alone were mentioned in the Act as being rateable “iron mines” are not included.
• In yet another English case decided in 1855 an Act imposed a rate on houses, buildings, works and tenants but exempted land it was construed to mean land without buildings, houses or workers upon it.
Rex v Sec of State for the Home Dep
Section 2 (3) of Immigration Act stated the word ‘parent’ means the mother of an illegitimate child, by implication excluded the father.
In some occasions the legislature may have included a specific reference to a certain subject matter with the intention of limiting the scope of the statute to those matters only for example;
A hypothetical situation would be “candidates for the Commissioner General post should be of age 50 with a university qualification, this denotes the fact that not only would the eligibility criteria be attainment of the required age, but specific reference is endorsed by the legislature in regards to the qualification.
In light of the above example, this maxim can be used as a guiding hand rather than a product on its own.
However, this maxim will have to be applied with extreme caution and should not be used in situations such as:
• In the intention of the legislature did not mean that the express mention of one thing should operate to exclude all others, if so, the principle should not be applied.
• Where the statutory language is plain and the meaning is clear.
The maxim should only be used to ascertain the legislative intent. This is not a rule of law but only a rule of construction.

1.1 [1906] HCA 29 – 3 CLR 1054; 12 ALR 510
2 (1836) 7 C & P 446
3 1995 211 ITR 192 Cal
4 [1904] 2 Ch. 352
5 (1940) AC 1014
6 (1981) 1 S. L. R.
7 1996 (5) Bom CR 669
8 [1979] Ch 344
9 1972 AIR 1863, 1973 SCR (1) 533
10 [1979] UKHL J1122-1
11 178 L. Ed. 2d 389; 2010 U.S. 79 U.S.L.W. 3269

About the Author:-

This Article has been written by Aryan Sinha, 5th Year law (BBA+LLB(H) student at Galgotias University, Greater Noida.

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