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Literal Rule

 Literal Rule

By: Anjali Tiwari

Introduction

"Interpretation" is derived from the Latin word "interpretari," which means "to explain or grasp." Every statute must be interpreted by the judge in accordance with its original intent.

The goal of interpretation is to figure out what the statute stands for, what problem it is trying to solve, and what remedy it is promoting. The basic principle of statute construction is that words must be construed and comprehended literally. The Literal Rule is the first rule of the judges. The literal rule is also known as the grammatical rule by some lawyers.

A judge is required by the literal rule to assess the statute's 'literal' interpretation, that is, it’s clear, unequivocal meaning. The words themselves, it is claimed, best declare the intention of the law-givers. The process by which the courts attempt to identify the Legislature's goal through the authoritative manner in which it is presented is known as interpretation or construction. The law must be considered as it is under the literal rule of interpretation, and judges cannot go beyond 'litera legis.' the literal meaning is utilized to assess the statute's 'ratio legis.'

According to the literal rule, the parliament's goal when framing the statute is the normal meaning of the terminology used. Justice Jervis defined the concept of literal rule in Abley v Gale. 

"It is not for the judges to fabricate imaginary ambiguities as an excuse for neglecting to give effect to the plain meaning of the legislative terms because the implications would be inconvenient, or even unjust or immoral," Lord Diplock remarked in Duport Steel Ltd v Sirs.

Unless there is something in the context or the statute's objective that implies otherwise, the words of a statute must first be understood in their natural, ordinary, or popular sense, and phrases and sentences must be construed according to their grammatical meaning. Even if the decision is unjust, no court can overturn the statute's construction. The ordinary sense of a statute's language must be given to it first.

The literal rule acknowledges Parliament's supremacy: the power to make laws, even if they seem absurd at times. According to the literal rule of interpretation, the statute has no contrary meaning.

Where there is no ambiguity in the wording, the question of intent should not be entertained.  The terms are straightforward and basic in the literal sense. The literal rule aids the judge in the administration of fair justice. When the statute's text is clear and unambiguous, it is not necessary to analyse the legislative intent or object of the Act. The literal rule effectively prevents courts from deviating from the usual or literal sense of terms in statutes. It is up to the court to interpret the meaning of a statute when it is confusing or ambiguous. The literal rule values precision and certainty, which helps to reduce litigation.

The following are some of the benefits of using the literal rule:

It makes the monument understandable to the average individual.

The legislative goal is clear and unmistakable.

The literal rule recognises legislative supremacy in the administration of justice.

Under the literal rule, the law is largely predictable.

The literal rule has a number of drawbacks:

Being the risk of making irrational conclusions.

The English language is a jumbled mess of connotations.

It's hard to ascribe literal meaning to every situation and incident.

The regulation requires the draughtsman of the House of Commons to satisfy unrealistic standards.

When applying the literal rule of interpretation to statutes, the following are the guidelines to follow:

Ejusdem Generis is a Latin word that translates to "in God's name."

When general terms follow an enumeration of individuals or objects by words with a particular and specific meaning, such general terms are to be understood only in the broadest sense, and only in relation to those of the same general kind or class as those expressly mentioned. The assumption of a generic meaning for words or phrases of a similar kind is known as Ejusdem Generis.

"Casus Omissus" means "cases removed" in Latin. Casus omissus also refers to a situation in which the law does not apply. It's a situation that isn't covered by a statute or contract, so it's governed by case law or freshly enacted law by a court. It's a construction canon that mandates the court to establish statutory construction norms that will be followed by subsequent judges in their rulings.

The phrase "Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius" means "one thing has been mentioned, the other has been excluded." This adage, according to L.J. Lopes, indicates a valuable servant but a dangerous boss. It is a principle for determining the legislative intent that expressio unius est exclusio alterius. There is no scope for applying the rule where the legislative language is unambiguous and the meaning is apparent.

The following are some of the criticisms levelled towards the literal reading of statutes:

The literal rule is claimed to be founded on the erroneous assumption that words have a set meaning. Following the literal rule of interpretation leads to injustice. There is a risk of creating false precedents while determining cases. The courts do not have the power to alter the legislative text, and judicial innovation is not permitted. Without the context in which they are spoken, the words have no significance.

Exercising the literal rule of statutory interpretation in case studies:

Harris v. R (7C) (1863)

In this instance, the defendant bit the plaintiff's nose. The statute stated it illegal to "stab, cut, or wound," but the court determined that biting did not fit within the meaning of "stab, cut, or wound" under the literal rule, because these terms required the use of an instrument. As a result, the defendant was acquitted of the charges.

CIT v. T. V. Sundaram Iyyengar (1975) 101 I.T.R 764 SC 

In this instance, the court held, "If the language of the statute is clear and unequivocal, the Court cannot reject the plain meaning, even if it leads to injustice."

87 SC Taxmann CIT v. Keshavji Ravji and Co. (1990)

Any interpretive method to reveal the legislative intent is prohibited if the legislation language is plain, according to the literal rule.


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