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NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ORISSA

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES
- COURSE SYLLABUS
ABHIK MAJUMDAR
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF LAW
1. COURSE OVERVIEW
Interpretation of statutes is one of the most intriguing courses found in law school curricula. It
entails a series of binaries not usually accorded the notice they call for. For example, while statutes
themselves gained significance in common-law systems only in recent times, the idea of
interpretation boasts a much richer history. In India, especially, the techniques of textual exegesis
associated with the Mmms school of thought can be traced back to the 3
rd
century !".
#econdly, while considerable theoretical work on interpretation has been carried out, and it remains
an area of deep interest for legal philosophers, at the same time it carries practical applications of a
magnitude not usually associated with theory-oriented sub$ected. %uch of indirect taxation
practice, for example, involves interpreting taxation statutes.
&s a consequence of the foregoing, care has to be taken while designing this course that both the
theoretical and practical aspects of it are adequately addressed. It is unfortunately a common
practice among law teachers to sacrifice one for the other, and this is surely a futile expedient more
than anything else.
2. OBJECTIVES OF THE COURSE
'he ob$ect of any interpretation course is to familiarise students with two aspects( the theory and the
practice of statutory interpretation. 'his would require several distinct skillsets. 'he first is an
orientation into the role of interpretation in the practice of law. )hich entails a capacity to
understand law and interpretation in their larger contexts. 'hen comes a familiarity with the tools,
techniques and $argon of the world of interpretation. 'his involves sensitising the student to the
ob$ectives of individual laws, their implications, unintended consequences, impact on society and so
on. *either skillset can be picked up in one day, or through one single course. #tudents acquire
them by osmosis, as it were, throughout their period of instruction and even beyond.
+ence, the present course does not aspire to provide students with all the skills and techniques they
will ever require within the university or outside. Instead, it seeks to familiarise students with the
practice of legal research the extent that they will be able to acquire for themselves the necessary
skills, techniques and perceptions as and when they are required.
In the light of the foregoing, let us examine what exactly we seek to impart through this course. )e
may split this into several individual components.
First, a background to the character of statutory interpretation, its need and relevance in
today,s legal world.
Secondly -and allied to the first., a basic familiarity with how interpretation has evolved
over the centuries, and also alternate philosophies of interpretation, such as Mmms.
Thirdly, exposure to the general rules of interpretation, and how to apply them in practical
scenarios.
Fourthly, familiarity with internal and external aids to interpretation, and their applications.
Fifthly, exposure to debates about specialised situations involving statutes, such as
retrospectively applicable and temporary legislation, and their application.
Sixthly, exposure to the /eneral !lauses &ct, and its applications.
Seventhly, some familiarity with the language of statutes, and legal drafting.
3. TEACHING METHODOLOGY
In keeping with the divergent theoretical and practical needs of the sub$ect, this course entails a
design not usually found in Indian law school courses. %ost of the classes in a week shall be
devoted to regular lectures about interpretation principles and their practical applications. +owever,
one class a week shall be set aside for theoretical aspects. 'hese classes shall be conducted in a
spirit of free discussion and interchange, and shall be as such significantly less formal than the other
classes.
&s regards the other classes, by and large, the teaching methodology adopted here is lecture-based.
'hese lectures, however, are not intended to be one-way discourses, with the professor droning on
and the students blindly taking down notes more to stave off boredom than anything else. 'hey are
designed to be as interactive as possible. 0ectures dealing with practical matters -such as library and
internet research. are to be accompanied with suitable demonstrations. #tudents are encouraged to
ask questions, and even discuss points amongst themselves -so long as they don,t make too much
noise1.. It is hoped that a spirit of frank, fearless interchange of ideas is sustained all through. &t the
same time, students are required to prepare meticulously for classes. 'his in$unction is for their own
benefit2 since lectures are modelled on the assumption that everyone has done the requisite
background reading, those students who have not done so will find it very difficult to keep up with
the class.
4. STUDENT ASSESSMENT
'he evaluation pattern followed in this course is divided into two components, viz. continuous
evaluation, and end-trimester examinations. 'he first comprises of group assignments, take-home
assignments, presentations and other similar exercises. & total of fifty marks out of hundred is
allocated for it. 'he end-semester examination is designed to test students, grasp over the theoretical
and practical aspects of legal research. 'his will comprise the remaining fifty marks.
. COURSE OUTLINE
3. Introduction to #tatutory Interpretation
4. 'he 5hilosophy of Interpretation
3. /eneral 6ules of Interpretation I
7. /eneral 6ules of Interpretation II
8. Internal and "xternal &ids to Interpretation
9. #pecialised #ituations : 6etrospective #tatutes, 'emporary #tatutes,
'axation #tatutes, 5enal #tatutes, #ubordinate 0egislation
;. 'he /eneral !lauses &ct
<. 0egislative =rafting
!. BREAKUP OF MODULES
1. Introduction to Statutory Interpretation
'his module provides an overview of the concept called statutory interpretation. In this module,
mention shall also be made of the genesis, the need, and the consequent evolution of this discipline.
2. The hilosophy of Statutory Interpretation
'his module is to be engaged with simultaneously with the others. &s I have mentioned earlier, one
class a week shall be set aside for it. +ere we look at both statutes and interpretation in a wider
context. &lternate traditions of interpretation, such as the Mmms school of philosophy, shall be
touched upon. #imilarly, various schools of interpretation deriving from the positivist, natural and
realist schools of thought shall also be discussed.
!. "eneral #ules of Interpretation $ I
'his module pertains to general principles of interpretation. 'he literal rule, context rule and similar
precepts are commonly introduced at a rudimentary level to first-year law students. In this module
we explore these concepts in much more elaborate detail. )e address principles familiar to most
law students, such as e%usdem &eneris and noscitur a sociis, as also rules of harmonious
construction, the avoidance of absurdity and so on, and their application to various different kinds
of law.
'. "eneral #ules of Interpretation $ II
#pecific modes of interpretation, such as con$unctive and dis$unctive constructions2 reading >or, as
>and, and vice versa2 non o(stante clauses2 mandatory and directory clauses2 etc. are commonly
encountered in interpreting statutes. In this module we explore these aspects of statutes, their
implications, and how they are to be construed.
). Internal and *xternal +ids to Interpretation
In today,s legal world, a statute is a highly evolved entity entailing much more than a mere
collection of propositions. Illustrations, section headings, short title, long title, marginal notes etc.
are features commonly found in them. In this module, we discuss the role they play in imparting
meaning to statutory provisions. #imilarly, external aids play a vital role. 'hese range from
dictionaries and law lexicons to parliamentary debates and other insights into the background of
legislation. 'hey play a critical role in interpreting statutes.
,. Specialised Situations $ #etrospective and Temporary Statutes
'emporary statutes entail their own canons of interpretation. "ven general principles of
interpretation must be applied keeping in mind this special context. #imilarly, statutory provisions
that act retrospectively must be read as such2 several features serve to distinguish them from
ordinary provisions which operate only prospectively. 'ax statutes generally call for much stricter
interpretation than other statutes do. 5enal statutes also call for strict interpretation2 in addition they
must be interpreted in a manner consistent with fundamental principles of criminal $urisprudence
such as the rules against double $eopardy and self-incrimination.
In this module, we examine what specific interpretation principles such special situations call for,
and how their interpretation differs from the way ordinary statutory provisions are interpreted. )e
shall not discuss constitutional interpretation here, since it is usually covered in constitutional law
courses.
-. The "eneral .lauses +ct/ 101-
'he /eneral !lauses &ct of 3<?; was drafted in the heyday of the codification era where
enthamite administrators treated the Indian legal system as a testbed for implementing entham,s
views on codification and legal reform, with a view to implementing these ideas in "ngland at a
later stage. It was designed to act as an authoritative statement on the interpretation of specific
words and phrases, as well as generally applicable concepts such as the calculation of dates, times
and distances, powers of appointment, the power to issue notifications and so on. In this module we
explore how the provisions of the &ct apply in practice.
0. 2e&islative 3raftin&
'his module addresses statutes in general, their technical features, and especially the language they
employ. Issues of punctuation, style and precision shall be examined here.
". MATERIALS
'he singular character of this course precludes recommending lists of cases for each module
separately. Indeed, so many cases have to be read and processed that identifying a few as most
relevant is difficult and, arguably, even tends towards futility. #imilarly, generating lists of
secondary material is problematic, as the same work frequently carries implications in respect of
several modules. !onsequently I have thought it expedient to provide a single bibliographic list, to
portions of which we shall advert as and when the module and the specific topic under
consideration demand so.
3. &lexander, 0arry @ #herwin, "mily( 3emystifyin& 2e&al #easonin& -!ambridge(
!ambridge Aniversity 5ress, 4BB<..
4. =workin, 6( >0aw as Interpretation, -3?<4. ? !ritical Inquiry 3;?.
3. "asterbrook, Frank + ( >'ext, +istory, and #tructure in #tatutory Interpretation, -3??7. 3;
+arvard Cournal of 0aw and 5ublic 5olicy 93.
7. +olmes, D)( >'he 'heory of 0egal Interpretation, -3<??. 34 +arvard 0aw 6eview 73;.
8. %armor, &ndrei( Interpretation and 2e&al Theory, 4
nd
ed. -Dxford( +art 5ublishing, 4BB8..
9. %oore, %ichael #, > & *atural 0aw 'heory of Interpretation, -3?<8. 8< #. !al. 0. 6ev. 4;;.
;. 5osner, 6ichard &( >#tatutory Interpretation( In the !lassroom and in the !ourtroom, -3?<3.
8B 'he Aniversity of !hicago 0aw 6eview <BB.
<. : ( >0egal Formalism, 0egal 6ealism, and the Interpretation of #tatutes and the
!onstitution, -3?<9-<;. 3; !ase )estern 6eserve 0aw 6eview 3;?.
?. #arathi, Eepa 5( Interpretation of Statutes, 8
th
ed. -0ucknow( "astern ook !o., 4B3B..
3B. #lawson, )=( >0egislative +istory and the *eed to ring #tatutory Interpretation under the
6ule of 0aw, -3??4. 77 #tanford 0aw 6eview 3<3.
33. Feppos, *icholas #( >0egislative +istory and the Interpretation of #tatutes( 'oward a Fact-
Finding %odel of #tatutory Interpretation, -3??B. ;9 Eirginia 0aw 6eview 34?8.