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Report No. 183

Whether external aids can be incorporated into the General Clauses Act

Now, the issue arises whether law about admissibility of these external aids should be incorporated in the General Clauses Act 1897. This issue was examined by the Law Commission in Chapter 2 of the its 60th Report. The Law Commission was of the view that these rules of admissibility of external aid cannot be codified. These are judge made rules. The Commission thus observed as follows:

"2.7 It is obvious that all 'rules of interpretation' cannot be codified. Some rules are only guidelines, as we have already stated. A suggestion was made later by Professor Acharya in his Tagore Law Lectures on codification in British India, that the scope of the General Clauses Act should be extended so as to make it a comprehensive code on the interpretation of statutes. This suggestion is, no doubt, attractive at first sight; but a close scrutiny will reveal its impracticability.

It is not possible to incorporate, in an Interpretation Act, the rules of interpretation enunciated in the text books on the subject. One of the main reasons for having an Interpretation Act is to facilitate the task of the draftsman in preparing parliamentary legislation. The courts also have recourse to Interpretation Acts to interpret statutes; but they do not confine themselves to these Acts. They certainly take the aid of accepted rules of interpretation as laid down in decided cases.

Moreover, a certain degree of elasticity is necessary in this branch of the law. Rules of construction of statutes are not static. Aims and objects of legislation will be better served by appropriate judicial interpretation of the law, rather than by rigid provisions in the law themselves. At present, Judges have a certain amount of latitude in the matter, which enables them to do justice, after taking into consideration the nature and character of each statute. If the rules of construction are given a statutory form, the consequential rigidity in this branch of the law is likely to do more harm than good."

The recommendations of the Law Commission in its above Report are well defined and contain sound reasons. These reasons are still valid. We are of the opinion that in view of the reasons forthcoming also, there is no need to disturb those recommendations in Chapter 2 para 2.7 of the 60th Law Commission of India Report and we reiterate the same. It would not be appropriate to limit the extent of resources to be considered as extrinsic aids to interpretation as this step would be antiprogressive. If the rules regarding external aids are provided in legislative form, provisions would become rigid and courts would be deprived of their judicial function of interpretation to achieve social goals or dispense justice.

Courts will not be able to take judicial notice of some information which is useful, if reference to that kind of information is not to be made permissible because of straight-jacket rules prohibiting such use by legislative form. The Legislature cannot prepare an exhaustive list of situations to which alone courts may be confined for use of external aids. The British and Scottish Law Commission in its Report (1969) on the Interpretation of Statutes also favoured non-codification of these rules. Chapter V of the Report deals with this aspect. At para 46, the Report says:

"It is self-evident that in order to understand a statute a court has to take into account many matters which are not to be found within the statute itself. Legislation is not made in a vacuum, and a judge in interpreting it is able to take judicial notice of much information relating to legal, social, economic and other aspects of the society in which the statute is to operate. We do not think it would serve a useful purpose to attempt to provide comprehensive directives as to these factors."

A continuum on the General Clauses Act, 1897 with special reference to the admissibility and codification of external aids to interpretation of statutes Back

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