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Report No. 183

(6) Historical facts and surrounding circumstances

Apart from the various external aids discussed above, courts while interpreting a statutory provision, can take into account relevant historical facts or history of enactment in order to understand the subject matter of statute. Court can also have regard to the surrounding circumstances which existed at the time of passing of the statute. But, like any other external aid, the inference from historical facts and surrounding circumstances must give way to the clear language employed in the enactment itself. In this regard, Supreme Court in Mohanlal Tripathi v. Distt. Magistrate Rail Bareilly and others, (1992) 4 SCC 80, has observed:

"Value of 'historical evolution' of a provision or 'reference' to what preceded the enactment is an external aid to understand and appreciate the meaning of a provision, its ambit or expanse has been judicially recognized and textually recommended. But this aid to construe any provision which is 'extremely hazardous' should be resorted to, only, if any doubt arises about the scope of the section or it is found to be 'sufficiently difficult and ambiguous to justify the construction of its evaluation in the statute book as a proper and logical course and secondly, the object of the instant enquiry' should be 'to ascertain the true meaning of that part of the section which remains as it was and which there is no ground for thinking of the substitution of a new proviso was intended to alter'."

(para 7)

This rule of admissibility permits recourse to historical works, pictures, engraving and documents where it is important to ascertain ancient facts of a public nature. Recently, Supreme Court while dealing with the Dental Act, 1948 in Dental Council of India v. Hariprakash, (2001) 8 SCC 61 has observed:

"The Act is a pre constitutional enactment but it has application in the post constitutional era also. When interpreting such an enactment, we have not only to bear in mind the historical background leading to the legislation and the amendments effected therein, but also various aspects covered by it".

(para 3.1)

It is apparent from this discussion that historical facts and surrounding circumstances are also relevant facts to be taken into account by the Court as external aids for interpretation of statutes.



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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