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Literal Rule of Interpretation

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HomeBrud.gifInterpretation of StatutesBrud.gifLiteral Rule of Interpretation

Literal Rule of statute interpretation states that statute must be construed in the ordinary and natural meaning of the words and sentences.

  • Words and Phrases will have their general meaning in Statutes. If it is a technical statute, they will have their technical meaning
  • Phrases and sentences are constructed according to the rules of grammar.


  • Salmond: Interpretation is either Grammatical or Logical.
  • Glanwille Williams terms this interpretation as literal or free interpretation.

According to this rule, Judges should follow litera legis i.e go by the words of the law in ascertaining the law. It is a general assumption that legislation has said what it meant and meant what it said. A judge should not go beyond the words of the statute during interpretation.

Ita scriptum est (as the words are) is the first principle of interpretation. According to this, judges should not add or take from or modify the letter of law simply because that they believe that the spirit of the law is not adequately expressed.

Court take the help of dictionaries or scientific and technical books in understanding the exact meaning of the words / phrases used in the statute.

Noscitur a sociis: Meaning of a word is to be judged by the company it keeps. i.e meaning of the words is affected by the context in which the word is used. The context can be found in other sections surrounding the section being interpreted.

Courts are generally permitted to extend the statutory words to cover new inventions. Hence, the Engraving Copyright Act applies not only to engravings but also to photography. Similarly, the Telegraph Act also applied to telephones.

  • Loquitor ut vulgus: According to common understanding and acceptation of terms: Statutes are presumed to use the popular meaning of words rather than narrow, legal or technical sense.

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