Role of Judiciary in Interpretation of Statutes

The role of a judge is one that is paramount. They are instruments par excellence in handling and deciding cases with the guidance of the existing legal order. They have the task of fixing the existence, validity and meaning of legal norms. The realists put-forth an argument that there could be many reasons why the judge reached his decision and legal logic was necessarily not an important one. Thus, the interpretation of legislation becomes a judges’ paradise. When a decision is pronounced by a judge it is not only because of the law but also on the intention of the judge over what the intention of the legislature would have been. The judge interprets the statue with an intention of what he perceives to be the intention of the legislature.

One of the major functions of the judiciary is to interpret and apply laws to specific cases. In the course of deciding the disputes that come before it, the judges interpret and apply laws. Every law needs a proper interpretation for getting applied to every specific case. This function is performed by the judges. The law means what the judges interpret it to mean.

The Judiciary is the third organ of the administration. It has the obligation to apply the laws to explicit cases and settle all questions. The genuine ‘importance of law’ is the thing that the adjudicators choose over the span of giving their decisions in different cases.


Need for Interpretation:


  • Ambiguity of the words used in the statute:

Sometimes there will be words that have more than one meaning. And it may not be clear which meaning has to be used. There could be multiple interpretations made out of it.

  • Change in the environment:

We all know that society changes from time to time and there may be new developments happening in a society that is not taken into consideration; this lacks the predictability of the future event.

  • Complexities of the statutes:

Usually statutes are complex and huge, it contains complicated words, jargon and some technical terms which are not easy to understand and this complexity may lead to confusion.


The interpretation of an Act may be radically affected by judicial identification of background understandings about how legislation should be drafted, thought to be shared by the courts and Parliament – the so-called principle of legality (interpretation by reference to respect for underlying constitutional principles). Unless such principles are excluded by clear language or necessary implication, a statutory provision may be “read down”, to limit its effect by reference to such constitutional understandings; or words may be “read in” to a provision to ensure that the Act will be read in conformity with such understandings. In order for the draftsman to know precisely what effect he will achieve by drafting in a particular way, he needs to have a good understanding of what those understandings are and how the courts will react to them. But the criteria are not always clear, and there is an element of judicial inventiveness in identifying relevant principles of construction


Grasim Industries Ltd. v Collector of Customs, Bombay:

Where the words are clear and there is no obscurity, and there is no ambiguity and the intention of the legislature is clearly conveyed, there is no scope for court to take upon itself the task of amending or altering the statutory provisions.


R.S. Nayak v A.R. Antulay:

If the words of the Statute are clear and unambiguous, it is the plainest duty of the Court to give effect to the natural meaning of the words used in the provision. The question of construction arises only in the event of an ambiguity or the plain meaning.


In Noida land acquisition case, the Supreme Court cancelled the acquisition of land by U.P government as it was acquired for industrial purpose but it was given to builders for making apartments. The court ordered that land should be reverted back to farmers from whom land was acquired. Often Supreme Court and different High Courts pass orders for CBI investigation in several cases. Under the law these powers lie with the governments. This is an example of judicial activism. However it should be viewed as a protection to the human and constitutional rights of the citizens. The Supreme Court has also played a significant role in case relating 2002 Gujarat riot, where the court went to extent of changing the jurisdiction of the High court for trial and calling for a complete re-trial.

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