Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat – Interpretation of Statutes

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This rule furthers to establish that Court shall presume the constitutionality of a provision and prefers an interpretation in favor of the competence of the legislature or other authority laying down a rule of law.[1]Linguistically, this Latin maxim suggests: That the thing may rather have effect than destroyed.

Let us see the various facets to this rule:

  1. Unless and until a provision is in flagrant violation of the Constitution, constitutionality of a provision shall be presumed. Thus, there might be a situation wherein two possible interpretation of a certain provision is possible: First, which suggests that the provision is so blatantly violating the Constitution that no effect could be given to it while secondly, if by offering a restrictive interpretation to the provision, legal validity of the provision could be preserved then a restrictive interpretation should be offered to the provision. In Mark Netto v. State of Kerela[2], the appellant was the manager of the School who on assertion by the Christian Community admitted girls to a boys’ school. When this matter was taken up with the district administration then they denied the admissions claiming refuge under Rule 12(3) of Chapter VI of the Kerala Education Rules, 1959. The rule provided:


Girls may be admitted into Secondary Schools for boys in areas and in towns where there are no Girls’ Schools and in such cases adequate arrangements should be made for the necessary convenience. The admissions will be subject to general permission of the Director in particular Boys’ School which will be specified by him.

Wider application of the aforesaid provision would have led the inclusion of minorities within the said rule which would have led the above rule nugatory as it would have been in violation of rights conferred upon minorities under Article 30 of the Constitution. Moving under the shadow of Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat, if by offering a restrictive interpretation to Rule 12(3) of the Education Rules, the said rule could be saved from hitting the vires of Article 30 then by all the means restrictive interpretation should be given to it. That is exactly what Supreme Court did in this case; and observed:

In that view of the matter the Rule in question in its wide amplitude sanctioning the with-holding of permission for admission of girl students in the boy’s minority school is violative of Article 30. If so widely interpreted it crosses the barrier of regulatory measures and comes in the region of interference with the administration of the institution, a right which is guaranteed to the minority under Article 30. The Rule, therefore, must be interpreted narrowly and is held to be inapplicable to a minority educational institution in a situation of the kind with which we are concerned in this case. We do not think it necessary or advisable to strike down the Rule as a whole but do restrict its operation and make it inapplicable to a minority educational institution in a situation like the one which arose in this case.[3]

Thus, while resorting to a narrow interpretation the above set of facts skipped the operation of Rule 12(3) of the Kerala Education Rules and girls were allowed to be admitted in the school run for boys by Diocese.

  1. While interpreting any provision/law if there are two interpretations possible: one which is intra vires while another which is ultra vires, then former interpretations shall always prevail over the latter. See Corporation of Calcutta v. Liberty Cinemas AIR 1965 SC 1107.
  2. While presuming the constitutionality of any provision, unnecessary extension should not be given to the words of the provision. Since, this rule has been established to gauge intention of the legislature when it couldn’t be gauged from the words which are employed by it, therefore reading this aspect of this rule essentially furthers a claim for ‘textualist’ interpretation or could also be viewed as imposing a rider on the ‘contextual’ interpretation. In Dhoom Singh v. Prakash Chandra Sethi[4], an election petition was filed by Mr. C against Mr. A, who won the elections of Legislative Assembly from Ujjain North Assembly Constituency. Mr. A raised an objection that the election petition save the annexures weren’t signed by the petitioner i.e. Mr. C, therefore the petition fails to comply with the mandate set out in S. 81(3) of the Representation of People’s Act and hence is liable to be dismissed under S. 86(1) of the same Act. One Mr. B who later made an intervening application while the hearing of the petition claiming that Mr. C has colluded with Mr. A and therefore to he should be allowed to be impleaded in the proceedings. High Court dismissed his claims stating that the provision only speaks of ‘withdrawal or abatement’ but doesn’t provide for ‘intervention’ by a third party. Sensing defect in the scheme of the Statute, apex court held: 

The argument that in such a situation ‘the intention of the legislature that a petition should not fail by reason of any bargain or collusion between the election petitioner and the successful candidate would be frustrated’ was repelled on the ground ‘there is undoubtedly a lacuna in the Act, because it makes provision when an election petitioner is allowed to withdraw, but makes no such provision if he just refuses to prosecute.[5]

Refusing to apply golden rule, Court further observed:

But that reason would not, as pointed out by Grover J. in Jugal Kishore’s Case AIR 1956 Punj 152 be a sufficient reason to construe the provisions beyond the purview of their language. This is another type of contingency, where if thought necessary: It is for the Legislature to intervene. The Court is helpless. [6]

Reflecting transition – hitting the culmination of textual interpretation and marking the inception of golden, best befits this rule. I think the prominent question in this case was: Could the new words which are not specified in the Statute be read into the Statute in the light of furthering object and purpose of the Statute? This reminds of the discussion wherein while discussing contextual interpretation, two possible methods were deciphered from the existing literature: First, where the text takes a primacy over the purpose and the object while the second, where the object and purpose takes a primacy over the text.[7]What Judges did while pushing the vague doctrine of ‘Independence of Judiciary’ under the guise of ‘Rule of Law’ was giving a primacy to the values over the text while what they did here in the instant case was to give primacy to text over the object and purpose of the Statute, which appears to be a more warranted method of interpretation. It would have been a different issue altogether if, ‘withdrawal or abatement’ may have entailed while its interpretation to encompass ‘intervention’ which is highly unlikely. Thus, while presuming the legality of any provision/law, no effect be given to something which is not clearly set out in the provision/law itself.

 [1] Vepa Sarathi on page 89

[2] (1979) 1 SCC 23

[3] Id at para 7

[4] AIR 1975 SC1012

[5] Id at para 12

[6] Id at para 12

[7] Judges Appointment Case – Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association v. Union of India

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