What is purposive interpretation of social welfare legislation and beneficent legislation?

The law on Interpretation of statutes has been explained by Cross in Statutory Interpretation as:

The meaning that the Court ultimately attaches to the statutory words will frequently be that which it believes members of the legislature attached to them, or the meaning which they would have attached to the words had the situation before the Court been present to their minds. Interpretation is the process by which the Court determines the meaning of a statutory Cross Statutory Interpretation, Ed. Dr. John Bell & Sir George Ingale, Second Edition (1987) provision for the purpose of applying it to the situation before it”.

The Hindu Marriage Act is a social welfare legislation and a beneficent legislation and it has to be interpreted in a manner which advances the object of the legislation. The Act intends to bring about social reforms.9 It is well known that this Court cannot interpret a socially beneficial legislation on the basis as if the words therein are cast in stone.

The predominant nature of the purposive interpretation was recognized by this Court in Shailesh Dhairyawan v. Mohan Balkrishna Lulla (2016) 3 SCC 619 which is as follows:

33. We may also emphasise that the statutory interpretation of a provision is never static but is always dynamic. Though the literal rule of interpretation, till some time ago, was treated as the “golden rule”, it is now the doctrine of purposive interpretation which is predominant, particularly in those cases where literal interpretation may not serve the purpose or may lead to absurdity. If it brings about an end which is at variance with the purpose of statute, that cannot be countenanced.

Not only legal process thinkers such as Hart and Sacks rejected intentionalism as a grand strategy for statutory interpretation, and in its place they offered purposivism, this principle is now widely applied by Parayankandiyal Eravath Kanapravan Kalliani Amma v. K. Devi (1996) 4 SCC 76, para 68 Revanasiddappa v. Mallikarjun, (2011) 11 SCC 1, para 40 11 (2016) 3 SCC 619 the courts not only in this country but in many other legal systems as well.

In Salomon v. Salomon & Co Ltd [1897] AC 22, Lord Watson observed that:

In a Court of Law or Equity, what the legislature intended to be done or not to be done can only be legitimately ascertained from that which it has chosen to enact, either in express words or by reasonable and necessary implication.

In Black-Clawson International Ltd. v. Papierwerke Waldhof-Aschaffenburg AG [1975] AC 591, p. 613, Lord Reid held that:

We often say that we are looking for the intention of Parliament, but that is not quite accurate. We are seeking the meaning of the words which Parliament used. We are seeking not what Parliament meant but the true meaning of what they said.

In Dy. Custodian v. Official Receiver (1965) 1 SCR 220 at 225 F – G it was declared that “if it appears that the obvious aim and object of the statutory provisions would be frustrated by accepting the literal construction suggested by the Respondent, then it may be open to the Court to inquire whether an alternative construction which would serve the purpose of achieving the aim and object of the Act, is reasonably possible”.



Category: Interpretation of statutes
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