Basic Rules Of Interpretation



Rules Of Interpretation

Grammatical or Literal Rule of Interpretation

One of the basic rules of interpretation of statute is grammatical interpretation. It is also known as literal or primary or natural or popular interpretation.

The rule of grammatical construction is considered to be the first principle of interpretation. According to this rule, the courts should acknowledge the words in a provision of a statute, if they are clear and unambiguous and effect should be given, whatever may be the consequences. The principle of literal construction is applied, where the wording of a statute is absolutely clear and unambiguous.

When the application of literal construction results in some absurdity or anomaly the court (judge) may resort to apply other principle of construction. The rule of grammatical interpretation postulates that, it is the duty of the court to expound the law as it stands, not to modify or alter or qualify its language.

The term ‘grammatical construction’ was used by Salmond. It does not look beyond the ‘literal legis’ (letter of law). Free interpretation is that which departs from the letter of the law and seeks elsewhere for some other and more satisfactory evidence of the true intention of the legislature. It is essential to determine the relative claims of the ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’ (legislative intent and object of statute) of enacted law.                                    Click me to submit an article

Merits/Advantages of the Rule of Literal Construction

When the rule of grammatical interpretation (literal construction) is applied, there is no scope for the judges to express their own opinion pre judices to interfere.

The rule of literal interpretation respects parliamentary supremacy and upholds separation of power.

Demerits /Disadvantages of the Rule of Literal Construction/Grammatical Interpretation

It fails to recognize that English language used in the statutes, itself is ambiguous and the English words contain different meanings from context to context.

The rule of literal construction ignores the limitations of language.


One of the three basic rules of interpretation, construction is ‘Golden Rule’. The Golden Rule of interpretation can be said as the modification of the Grammatical Rule of Interpretation. It is also known as British Rule. It was originated in England in 1854 and was coined by C.J. in the case of:

Matterson v. Hart (1854)

In this case, British Parliament applied the Golden Rule by giving the words used by the Legislature, their plain and natural meaning, unless injustice and absurdity would not result from so continuing them. This rule was named as ‘Golden Rule’ for the reason, it solves all problems.

Circumstances leading to the application of the golden rule

Golden rule gives the words in a statute, their plain ordinary meaning. If it leads to irrational result that is unlikely to be the legislature’s intention, the golden rule dictates that a judge can depart from this meaning. Where a word contains/conveys more than one meaning, the judge can choose the preferred meaning of his choice. If a word conveys only one meaning and application of the same leads to bad decision, then the judge can apply that word completely different meaning.

The golden rule of interpretation is applied in two ways i.e. narrower and wider sense. The rule is applied more frequently in narrower sense, where there is some ambiguity or absurdity in the words themselves in the statute. Secondly, the golden rule is applied in the wider sense, to avoid obnoxious result to the principles of public policy, even where the words in a statute have only one meaning.                                    Click me to submit an article

The Golden Rule of Interpretation in India

According to the Golden Rule, the courts in order to find out the intention of the legislature from the word used in the statute, give the words, their original and natural meaning. In case, it leads to any absurdity, repugnancy, inconvenience, hardship, injustice or evasion, the courts must modify the meaning of the words in the statute to such an extent so as to prevent the consequences as a result of such absurdity hardship etc. Hence, the Golden Rule of interpretation is a modification in the rule of Grammatical Interpretation.

The Supreme Court applied the golden rule of interpretation in-

Golaknadh v. State of Punjab (AIR 1967 SC 1643)

In this case, the Supreme Court applied the golden rule of interpretation and held that the parliament cannot amend the constitution affecting the provisions under Part III (Fundamental Rights) of the constitution (and overruled the earlier decisions in Shankari Prasad’s case and Shajjah Singh’s case).


The third basic rule of interpretation of statutes is “the mischief rule of Interpretation. This rule was laid down by the Lord. Coke in Re Heydon’s Case (1584). Hence, it is known as ‘the rule in Heydon’s case”. This rule now attained the status of classic is known as “the Mischief Rule”. This rule is called purposive construction. According to this rule, the courts must adopt that construction, which shall suppress the mischief and advance the remedy. This rule is applied, when the meaning of the words in a statute is not plain and clear. The purpose of the rule is to find out the true intention of the legislature by removing ambiguity and mischief. This rule is so called as ‘mischief rule’ because it envisages that construction, by which the mischief is suppressed. This rule enables the judges more discretionary power than Grammatical Rule and golden rule, as it allows him to decide effectively on Parliament’s intent. Hence, it is the duty of the court to make such construction of a statute, which shall suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.

Advantages/Merits of the Mischief Rule

It vanishes loopholes in law and help laws to develop.

It allows the statutes to be refined and developed.

It upholds the doctrine of separation of powers, parliamentary supremacy and sovereignty of the state.

It avoids unjust or absurd results in sentencing.                                    Click me to submit an article


It confers complete discretionary power on judges, who are unelected, which is argued to be undemocratic.

The mischief rule of interpretation sometimes results in uncertainty of the law.

Complete discretionary power on judges leads to adverse opinions of judges and infringement on the separation of powers.



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