INTERPRETATION OF PENAL STATUTES
In a penal law if there appears to be a reasonable dubiety or ambiguity, it shall be decided in favour of the person who would be liable to the penalisation. If a penal provision fairly be so construed as to avoid the punishment, it must be so interpreted. If there can be two reasonable interpretations of a penal provision, the more lenient should be made applicable. Punishment can be meted to one only if the plain words extension of the meaning of the word is allowable. A penalty cannot be imposed on the basis that the object of the statute so desired. According to Maxwell, “the prerequisite of express language for the creation of an ...view middle of the document...
Penal provision cannot be extended by implication to a particular case or circumstances. The rule exhibits a preference for the liberty of the subject and in a case of ambiguity enables the court to resolve the doubt in favour of the subject and against the Legislature which has failed to express itself clearly, but this rule is now-a-days of limited application. The rule was originally evolved to mitigate the rigours of monstrous sentences of trivial offences and although the necessity and that strictness have now vanished, the difference in approach made to penal statute as against any other statute still persists.
If a statute laid a mandatory duty but provided no mode for enforcing it, the presumption in ancient days was that the person in breach of the duty could be made liable for the offence of contempt of the statute. This rule of construction is obsolete and now has no application to a modern statute. Clear language is now needed to create a crime. “A penal provision must be definite”. It is a basic rule of legal jurisprudence that than an enactment is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined. Pollock, CB said: “whether there be any difference left between a criminal statute and any other statute not creating offence, I should say that in criminal statute you must be quite sure that the offence charged is within the letter of the law.”
In the case of Feroze N. Dotivalaz v. P.M Wadhwani and co., this court stated: “Generally, ordinary meaning is to be assigned to any word or phrase used or defined in a statute. Therefore, unless there is any vagueness or ambiguity, no occasion will arise to interpret the term in a manner which may add something to the meaning of the word which ordinarily does not so mean by the definition itself, more particularly, where it is a restrictive definition. Unless there are compelling reasons to do so, meaning of a restrictive and exhaustive definition would not be expanded or made extensive to embrace things which are strictly not within the meaning of the word as defined.”
In Anup Bhushan Vohra v. Registrar General, High Court of Judicature at Calcutta on (16 September, 2011) the Apex Court held that the contempt proceedings being quasi-criminal in nature, burden and standard of proof is the same as required in criminal cases. The charges have to be framed as per the statutory rules framed for the purpose and proved beyond reasonable doubtkeeping in mind that the alleged contemnor is entitled to the benefit of doubt. Law does not permit imposing any punishment in contempt proceedings on mere probabilities; equally, the court cannot punish the alleged contemnor without any foundation merely on conjectures and surmises. As observed above, the contempt proceeding being quasi-criminal in nature require strict adherence to the procedure prescribed under the rules applicable in such proceedings.
A man should not be goaled on ambiguity. Lord...