By Puja Kuashal, RMLNLU, Lucknow.
There is a well established fact that the legislature is the highest law making body and the court is merely an interpreter of the law. But the fact is, by interpreting the law, the court can make comprehensive changes in the actual implementation and overall maneuver of the law. This can be easily gathered by analyzing the statutory interpretation made by the Indian judiciary and its effect on the nation as a whole. This article therefore deals with an ambit of the interpretation of remedial and penal statutes to determine the whole objectives of both the statutes effectively and efficiently.
Remedial statutes are those statutes which have come to be enacted on demand of the permanent public policy generally receive a liberal interpretation. On constructing a remedial statute the courts ought to give it ‘the widest operation’ which the language of statute will permit. Courts exist only to see that a particular case is within the mischief to be remedied and whether it falls within the language of the enactment. There are various examples of remedial statutes which are discussed below along with the case laws:
- The labour and welfare legislations: These legislations should be construed broadly and liberally and while construing them due regard to the Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV) of the Constitution of India and to any international convention on the subject must be given by the courts. In case of MC Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu AIR 1991 SC 417, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 was construed. The Court, having regard to the Directive Principles in Articles 39(e), 39(f), 4(i), 45 and 47 of the Constitution, the fundamental rights in Art. 24, United nation convention on the rights of the child, not only directed a survey of child labour and its prohibition but also directed payment in monetary terms as contribution by the employer to the Child Labour-Rehabilitation-cum-Welfare Fund to the parent/guardian of the child to ameliorate poverty and lack of funds for welfare of the child.
- Social benefit oriented legislations: These legislations are to achieve the purpose of the enactment but without any violence to the language. If a section of a remedial statute is capable of two constructions, then that construction should be preferred which furthers the policy of the Act and is more beneficial to those in whose interest the Act may have been passed. The liberal construction must flow from the language used and the rule does not permit placing of an unnatural interpretation on the words contained in the enactment nor does it permit the raising of any presumption that protection of widest amplitude must be deemed to have been conferred upon those for whose benefit the legislation may have been enacted. In case there is any exception in the beneficial legislation which curtails its operation, the Court in case of doubt should construe it narrowly so as not to unduly expand the area or scope of exception. It has been held that a law enacted essentially to benefit a class of persons considered to be oppressed may be comprehensive in the sense that to some extent it also benefits those not within that class, for example, tenants and landlords. The Control of Rent and Eviction Act which drastically limits the grounds on which a tenant can be evicted is essentially to benefit the tenants but it is also to some extent benefit the landlord, who can file a suit for eviction on the grounds mentioned in the Act even though the tenancy has not been terminated in accordance with the provisions of the Transfer of Property Act, 1956. When contracts and transactions are prohibited by statutes for the sake of protecting one class of persons, the one from which situation and condition being liable to be oppressed and imposed upon by the other, the parties are not in pari delicto and a person belonging to the oppressed class can apply for redress even if he was a party to a contract or transaction prohibited by the statute.
A principle stating that, a statute enacting an offence or imposing a penalty is to be strictly construed, is not of universal application, though it must necessarily be observed in every case. It is now only of limited application and it serves in the selection of one when two or more constructions are reasonably open. The rule was originally evolved to mitigate the rigour of monstrous sentences for trivial offences and although that necessity and that strictness have now almost vanished, the difference in approach made to a penal statute as against any other statute still persists. The settled rule of construction of penal sections is that ‘if there is a reasonable interpretation which will avoid the penalty in any particular case we must adopt that construction. If there are two reasonable constructions we must give the more lenient one.’ Interpretation of penal provisions must be in consonance with the principles underlying fundamental rights. Any provision which finds an accused with adverse consequences without affording him any remedy to disprove an item of evidence which stands against his innocence, is inconsistent with the philosophy enshrined in Article 21. It was held by the Supreme Court that the courts should interpret such a provision as to dilute it and to make it amenable to Article 21 of the Constitution. Failure to comply with a statute may attract penalty. But only because a statute attracts penalty for failure to comply with the statutory provisions, the same in all situations would not call for a strict construction. An interpretation which strikes a balance between enforcement of law and protection of valuable human right of accused (right of privacy) must be resorted to. Provisions of Evidence Act, 1872, state that the burden to prove that the case of the accused falls within an exception to a statutory offence, lies on him. But the question whether the defence set up by an accused is really a defence of an exception or a defence setting up non-existence of a fact which is an ingredient of the offence to be proved by the prosecution, depends upon the construction of the particular statute. In applying and interpreting a penal statute, public policy is also taken into consideration.
An art of interpretation is a remarkable tool to paint citizens’ life with numerous beneficial colors of joy, peace and happiness. Indian judiciary has wonderfully endorsed Indian Statutes in a manner which is just, fair, reasonable and in conformity with the purpose for which the law is framed. Here, it is to suggest that judicial interpretation has ever been effective and apt or resulted in reasonableness. Therefore, it is to simply indicate that to make sense of the miserably worded statutes, where the purpose of the statute was apparent, judicial action with such a candid interpretation of statute has paid rich dividends for the country. In light of such interpretation, one can simply hope that statutory endorsement by judiciary will continue because a statute can never be exhaustive and legislative incapacity to speculate all the possible situations that may arise in future and in myriad circumstances will always leave a wide scope for interpretation. This gap will ensure that the interpretation by judiciary in the future will yield fruit bearing results for all. But judiciary must focus upon this special art of interpretation which has many brushes to paint, should not be indulged in any sort of controversy. This art should not be used to make painting boards (to make law); the real use of this art lies in painting a board (in interpretation) which it can very well do with the brushes (rules/doctrines of interpretation) which has been the prime focus in the whole submission.