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Report No. 60

5.13: Punctuation.-

Another allied question is regarding punctuation. Broadly speaking, the accepted view is that in modern times, punctuation forms part of an enactment, and regard should accordingly be had to it in construing the enactment. It is not, however, possible to be very precise or dogmatic in this regard. The fact that punctuation has, for some time past, been a part of the statute as enacted by the Legislature, is important as indicative of the value of punctuation marks as an aid in construction. Its use, however, seems to be limited to an obscure or doubtful provision of law, and, of course, the assistance to be derived from punctuation marks in interpretation will depend much on the accuracy and correctness with which they have been used. Until 1849, in England, statutes,-i.e., the Bills engrossed on parchment, were not punctuated,1 but the position is different now.

1. (a) Barrow v. Wadkin, (1858) 116 RR 1.

(b) R. v. Olehem, (1852) 21 L 7 MC 134.

5.14. It is often stated that good drafting should eliminate the need for punctuation. But perfect draftsmanship is an ideal which is rarely realised. Though not often used, punctuation is a guide in interpretation, but has to be resorted to cautiously. It is a minor element in the construction of a statute.1

Karl N. Lewellyn2 has given illustrations with regard to canons of construction. One of them is-punctuation marks will not control the plain and evident meaning of language.3 This is all that can be said on the subject with confidence.

1. (a) Ashwini Kumar v. Arabindo Bose, (1953) SCR 1 (41): AIR 1952 SC 369 (383). (b) Shambhu Reddy v. Chalamma, AIR 1966 Mys 311.

2. Lewellyn Remarks on the theory of Appellate Decision and the Rules or canons about how statutes are to be construed, (1950) 3 Vanderbilt Law Review 395.

3. Comment of Shri R.L. Narasimhan, as Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court.

5.15. In one of the comments1 on the draft Report which was circulated by the previous Commission, it was stated that it is desirable to insert a separate provision dealing with the principles of construction of punctuation in statutes. The old rule that punctuations are made by the printer and should not be taken notice of during construction,2 (it was stated) seems no longer in force. Since punctuations in the statutes are put by the draftsmen, and ore passed by the legislatures and in some recent decisions, the Supreme Court also has taken note of punctuations while construing the statutory provisions, the suggestion is that "it is better to clarify the law on the subject."

We have already stated the position above3 and we do not think that any specific provision in this regard would be appropriate.

1. Inland Revenue Commissioner v. Hinchy, 1960 AC 748 (765).

2. Note in 1959 L.Q.R. referred to.

3. Para. 5.14, supra.

General Clauses Act, 1897 Back

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