Introduction: While reading and interpreting a statute, it is essential to consider various elements and aspects. This includes understanding the constitutional authority for enacting laws, determining the legislative intent, ensuring simplicity and clarity of language, considering the overall purpose of the statute, avoiding ambiguity, promoting equity, and safeguarding against injustice or inconvenience. Additionally, provisions such as headings, punctuations, explanations, schedules, non-obstante clauses, and legal fictions play crucial roles in the construction of statutes. By adhering to these guiding principles, draftsmen can draft provisions that effectively convey the legislative intent and withstand judicial scrutiny. It is a significant responsibility to uphold these principles and ensure the backing of legislative intent while drafting provisions.
(a) A construction of a statute must never be open to judicial interpretation at the threshold. This means that no law can be enacted unless the Constitution empowers the legislature to do so.
(b) When construing a statute, it is crucial to consider the intent of the person who wants to legislate. The statute should convey the “true and legal” meaning intended by the legislature. It should be exhaustive, covering all possible intended situations. The language used must be simple, cogent, and easy to understand, while clearly conveying the intent and object of the legislature. Importantly, the construction of a statute should reflect the spirit of the legislature.
(c) The statute should be drafted or construed in a way that it is read as a whole and in its context. There should be no mischief or scope for dissecting the construction. The purpose of construction is to reach the intended recipient.
(d) Each word, phrase, expression, or sentence in the statute should be construed in a manner that serves the general purpose of the Act.
(e) Equal attention should be given to the construction of a statute, serving both dominant and ancillary purposes with equal force.
(f) A beneficial interpretation of a statute should not result in an exercise in futility.
(g) A plain or literal reading of a statute should ensure equity without ambiguity.
(h) The language used in the statute should ensure grammatical accuracy and should not allow the addition, rejection, or substitution of words. It should avoid technical terms or words used by businesses that may affect the intended construction.
(i) The construction of a statute should ensure that no injustice, hardship, or inconvenience is caused to a person who is not the intended recipient.
(j) Special attention should be given to headings and punctuations as they can often cause ambiguity and lack of clarity for the reader.
(k) Illustrations can be provided to enhance clarity.
(l) Definitions, wherever required, should be supplied by the statute itself. Referential legislation should be avoided as different statutes may have different objectives.
(m) Any construction involving a Proviso should be clear, specifying whether it is to “except,” “include,” or “qualify,” without leading to a different interpretation.
(n) Emphasis should be placed on the “substance” rather than the “form” of the provision.
(o) An explanation provided in a provision is an integral part of it and generally applies from the date the provision becomes operational. When an explanation is added to a clause, it applies only to that specific clause. However, when an explanation is added at the end of a section with multiple sub-sections or clauses, it is deemed to apply to all unless specified otherwise. An explanation typically supports the main objective of the enactment.
(p) In some cases, a provision may contain or refer to a Schedule. A Schedule attached or appended to an Act forms an integral part of the enactment. Schedules are included for convenience and to avoid burdening sections with excessive details.
(q) Several provisions begin with the expression “notwithstanding anything contained…,” known as a non-obstante clause. This implies that the relevant provision overrides a particular section, circumstance, or even other enactments.
(r) Sometimes, provisions use words like “deem,” “deemed,” or “deeming.” Such words create legal fictions, but their application is typically limited to the provision itself and cannot be extended to other provisions of the enactment.
These principles are fundamental to the construction of provisions. Draftsmen often consider these principles after initially construing the provision to ensure its compliance with legal tests, even in cases of judicial review or challenges. It is a significant responsibility for a draftsman to bear these guiding principles in mind while drafting provisions that align with legislative intent.