Aids to Interpretation of Statutes

Aids to interpretation of statutes

As defined in the Black’s Law Dictionary, a Statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a country, state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from the judicial decisions of the common law and the regulations issued by Government agencies.

Interpretation means the process of ascertaining the true meaning of the words used in a statute. The object of interpretation of statutes is to determine the intention of the legislature conveyed expressly or impliedly in the language used. As stated by Salmond, “By interpretation or construction is meant, the process by which the courts seek to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed.”

Jurists take the help of both Rules and Aids in the interpretation of Statutes. As stated by the Supreme Court in K.P. Varghese v. Income Tax Officer, Ernakulam[1], interpretation of statute being an exercise in the ascertainment of meaning, everything which is logically relevant should be admissible. A Rule is a uniform or established course of things. There are three rules of interpretation of statutes- Literal, Golden and Mischief. An Aid, on the other hand is a device that helps or assists. For the purpose of construction or interpretation, the court has to take recourse to various internal and external aids.

Internal Aids

Internal aids mean those aids which are available in the statute itself, though they may not be part of enactment. Some Internal Aids are-

Title of the Statute

Long title – Every Statute is headed by a long title and it gives the description about the object of an Act. For e.g. the long title of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, is – “An Act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the procedure of the Courts of Civil Judicature”.

In recent times, long title has been used by the courts to interpret certain provision of the statutes. However, it is useful only to the extent of removing the ambiguity and confusions and is not a conclusive aid to interpret the provision of the statute.


1. In Re Kerala Education bill[2], the Supreme Court held that the policy and purpose may be deduced from the long title and the preamble.

2. In Manohar Lal v. State of Punjab[3], Long title of the Act is relied as a guide to decide the scope of the Act.

Although the title is a part of the Act, it is in itself not an enacting provision and though useful in case of ambiguity of the enacting provisions, is ineffective to control their clear meaning.

Short Title – The short title of an Act is for the purpose of reference & for its identification. It ends with the year of passing of the Act. For e.g. Section 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, says –“This Act may be cited as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It shall come into force on the first day of January, 1909.”

Even though short title is the part of the statute, it does not have any role in the interpretation of the provisions of an Act.


The main objective and purpose of the Act are found in the Preamble of the Statute. It is a preparatory statement and contains the recitals showing the reason for enactment of the Act. For e.g. the Preamble of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, is “Whereas it is expedient to provide a general Penal Code for India; it is enacted as follows”.

The preamble is an intrinsic aid in the interpretation of an ambiguous act.


In Kashi Prasad v. State[4], the court held that even though the preamble cannot be used to defeat the enacting clauses of a statute, it can be treated as a key for the interpretation of the statute.

Headings and Title of a Chapter

Headings give the key to the interpretation and may be treated as preambles to the provisions following them.


1. In Krishnaiah v. State of A.P. and Ors[5] it was held that headings prefixed to sections cannot control the plain words of the provisions. Only in the case of ambiguity or doubt, heading or sub-heading may be referred to as an aid in construing provision.

2. In Durga Thathera v. Narain Thathera and Anr[6] the court held that the headings are like a preamble which helps as a key to the mind of the legislature but do not control the substantive section of the enactment.

Marginal Notes

Marginal notes are inserted at the side of the sections in an Act and express the effect of the sections stated.


However, in Wilkes v. Goodwin[7] Banks, LJ, held that the side notes are not part of the Act and hence marginal notes cannot be referred.

Definitional Sections/ Clauses

The object of a definition is to avoid the necessity of frequent repetitions in describing the subject matter to which the word or expression defined is intended to apply.

A definition contained in the definition clause of a particular statute, not from any other statute, should be used for the purpose of that Act.


Illustrations are examples provided by the legislature for better understanding of the statute.


In Mahesh Chandra Sharma v. Raj Kumari Sharma[8], it was held that illustrations are parts of the Section and help to elucidate the principles of the section.


A proviso is to provide examples of a specific case which would otherwise fall within the general language of the main enactment. It excludes, excepts and restricts the application of a section and its effect is confined to that case.


In CIT vs. Ajax Products Ltd.[9], it was held that whether a proviso is construed as restricting the main provision or as a substantive clause, it cannot be divorced from the provision to which it stands as a proviso. It must be construed harmoniously with the main enactment.


An Explanation is added to a section to elaborate upon and explain the meaning of the words appearing in the section. The purpose is not to limit the scope of the main section but to explain, clarify, subtract or include something by elaboration.


Schedules at the end contain minute details for working out the provisions of the express enactment. The expression in the schedule however cannot override the provisions of the express enactment.


Punctuation is a minor element and weight be given to it only when a statute is carefully punctuated and there is no doubt about its meaning.

External Aids

When internal aids are not adequate, courts have to take recourse to external aids. They are very useful tools for the interpretation or construction of statutory provisions. In B. Prabhakar Rao and others v. State of A.P. and others[10], O. Chennappa Reddy J. has observed: “Where internal aids are not forthcoming, we can always have recourse to external aids to discover the object of the legislation. External aids are not ruled out. This is now a well settled principle of modern statutory construction.”[11]

Further, in the case of District Mining Officer and others v. Tata Iron & Steel Co. and another[12], the Supreme Court has observed: “It is also a cardinal principle of construction that external aids are brought in by widening the concept of context as including not only other enacting provisions of the same statute, but its preamble, the existing state of law, other statutes in pari materia and the mischief which the statute was intended to remedy.”[13]

Some of the External Aids are –

Parliamentary History, Historical Facts and Surrounding Circumstances

If the wordings are ambiguous, the historical setting may be considered in order to arrive at the proper construction, which covers parliamentary history, historical facts, statement of objects and reasons, report of expert committees.

a) Parliamentary history means the includes conception of an idea, drafting of the bill, the debates made, the amendments proposed, speech made by mover of the bill, etc. Papers placed before the cabinet which took the decision for the introduction of the bill are not relevant since these papers are not placed before the parliament.


1. The Supreme Court in S.R. Chaudhuri v. State of Punjab and others[14] has stated that it is a settled position that debates in the Constituent Assembly may be relied upon as an aid to interpret a Constitutional provision because it is the function of the Court to find out the intention of the framers of the Constitution.[15]

But as far as speeches in Parliament are concerned, a distinction is made between speeches of the mover of the Bill and speeches of other Members.

2. Regarding speeches made by the Members of the Parliament at the time of consideration of a Bill, it has been held in K.S. Paripoornan v. State of Kerala and others[16] that they are not admissible as extrinsic aids to the interpretation of the statutory provision. However, speeches made by the mover of the Bill or Minister may be referred to for the purpose of finding out the object intended to be achieved by the Bill.

b) Historical facts of the statute are the external circumstances in which it was enacted. The object is to understand whether the statute in question was intended to alter the law or leave it where it stood.

c) Statement of objective and reasons provides why the statute is being brought to enactment. It is permissible to refer to it for understanding the background, the antecedent state of affairs, the surrounding circumstances in relation to the statute and the evil which the statute sought to remedy


But, as held in Devadoss (dead) by L. Rs, v. Veera Makali Amman Koil Athalur[17], it cannot be used to ascertain the true meaning and effect of the substantive provision of the statute.

d) Reports of Commissions including Law Commission or Committees including Parliamentary Committees preceding the introduction of a Bill can also be referred to in the Court as evidence of historical facts or of surrounding circumstances or of mischief or evil intended to be remedied.


The Supreme Court in Rosy and another v. State of Kerala and others[18] considered Law Commission of India, 41st Report for interpretation of section 200 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.[19]

Social, Political and Economic Developments and Scientific Inventions

A Statute must be interpreted to include circumstances or situations which were unknown or did not exist at the time of enactment of the statute. Any relevant changes in the social conditions and technology should be given due weightage.


In S.P. Gupta v. Union of India[20], it was stated – “The interpretation of every statutory provision must keep pace with changing concepts and values and it must, to the extent to which its language permits or rather does not prohibit, suffer adjustments through judicial interpretation so as to accord with the requirement of the fast changing society which is undergoing rapid social and economic transformation … It is elementary that law does not operate in a vacuum. It is, therefore, intended to serve a social purpose and it cannot be interpreted without taking into account the social, economic and political setting in which it is intended to operate. It is here that the Judge is called upon to perform a creative function. He has to inject flesh and blood in the dry skeleton provided by the legislature and by a process of dynamic interpretation, invest it with a meaning which will harmonise the law with the prevailing concepts and values and make it an effective instrument for delivery of justice.”[21]

Therefore, court has to take into account social, political and economic developments and scientific inventions which take place after enactment of a statute for proper construction of its provision.

Reference to Other Statutes

For the purpose of interpretation or construction of a statutory provision, courts can refer to or can take help of other statutes. It is also known as statutory aids. For e.g. the General Clauses Act, 1897.

The application of this rule helped to avoid any contradiction between a series of statutes dealing with the same subject as it allows the use of an earlier statute to throw light on the meaning of a phrase used in a later statute in the same context.


When a word is not defined in the statute itself, it is permissible to refer to dictionaries to find out the general sense in which that word is understood in common parlance. For e.g. Black’s Law Dictionary.

Judicial Decisions

Decisions by courts on the same manner act as precedents for the interpretation of statutes. Indian judicial pronouncements may have binding value when issued by a higher court, and have persuasive value when issued by a court having same or lower authority. These foreign decisions from countries following the same system of jurisprudence have persuasive value only and cannot be used to contradict binding Indian judgements.

Other materials

Courts also refer passages and materials from eminent text books, articles and papers published in journals.


The Supreme Court used information available on internet for the purpose of interpretation of statutory provision in Ramlal v. State of Rajasthan.[22]

Hence to conclude, there are various Aids of Interpretation of statutes.

Edited by – Ankita Jha

Approved & Published by – Sakshi Raje



[1] AIR 1981 SC 1922.

[2] 1959 1 SCR 995.

[3] 1961 AIR 418, 1961 SCR (2) 343.

[4] AIR 1950 All 732.

[5] AIR 2005 AP 10, 2004 (2) ALD 794, 2004 (2) ALT 730.

[6] AIR 1931 All 597, 136 Ind Cas 275.

[7] [1923] 2 KB 86.

[8] AIR 1996 SC 869, JT 1995 (8) 466.

[9] (1964) 55 ITR 741 (SC), 1965 AIR 1358, 1965 SCR (1) 700.

[10] AIR 1986 SC 120.

[11] Ibid, para 7.

[12] (2001) 7 SCC 358.

[13] Ibid, para 18.

[14] (2001) 7 SCC 126.

[15] Ibid, para 33.

[16] AIR 1995 SC 1012.

[17] AIR 1998 SC 750.

[18] (2000) 2 SCC 230.

[19] R.S. Adukia, Interpretation of Statutes, (Accessed on Dec. 4th, 2017).

[20] AIR 1982 SC 149.

[21] Ibid, para 62.

[22] (2001) 1 SCC 175.