The Language of Law – an Interpretation

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Language of Law – Interpretation Continues Abstract The paper is a nitty gritty investigation of ambiguities that emerge in the interpretation of legal language. It first discusses equivocalness that exists in English language and afterward happens to examine how the vagueness in language brings about making the law equivocal. Different illustrations and case laws have been utilized to clarify how the language makes the law uncertain. It then examines the requirement for evacuation of such equivocalness and talks about how the purposive rule of interpretation aides in right translation of law, thus, preventing wrong decision making by the courts. In finem the paper discusses the challenges confronted by layman as well as law persons in understanding the legal language.

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  1. Introduction

The law is a profession of words.[1] Also when the application of words decides the mechanism of the entire instrument of the judiciary, uncertainty and ambiguity is certain to manifest. Vagueness suggests perplexity as to the meaning of the language used. It can be of different sorts and structures. Regardless of all great expectations and various deliberations made by the lawyers and the judges, to keep the legal dialect free from the shackles of uncertainty, so that the regular man is fit for understanding and investigating it, the implications of the words found in legal records are not generally clear and unequivocal. They may be equipped for being seen in more than restricted, they may be farfetched or unverifiable or now and again both and they may give themselves to different interpretations by diverse people. This prompts ambiguous law that annihilates the reason for which it is implied. Yet the law must be unambiguous in light of the fact that it is related to everyday life of each person and everybody must comprehend it well to stick to it.

  1. Ambiguity in Language

The meaning of the word ‘Ambiguous’ as given in the ‘Merriam Webster Online Edition’ is –“Doubtful oruncertain due to indistinctness or something which can be interpreted in various ways.”[2] Coming to the legal meaning, Black’s law dictionary defines ambiguity as- “Doubtfulness, doubleness of meaning; indistinctness or uncertainty of meaning of an expression used in a written instrument.”[3]Whereas Lectric law library says that-“When an expression has been used in an instrument of writing which may be understood in more than one sense, it is said that there is an ambiguity.”[4]Thus, equivocal language can be characterized as a language that is hard to see basically due to its dicey and unverifiable nature. Vagueness can emerge because of different reasons. It may emerge as a consequence of absence of seeing between the author and the reader; what the reader had the capacity translate from a certain content, may not be the same as what the essayist needed to pass on through it. Take for instance the instance of sale in a specific shop; there is an astoundingly enormous contrast between ‘flat 50% sale’ and ‘up to 50% sale’; be that as it may, the crowd interprets the two announcements as one and the same. Then again, vague implications can likewise be determined because of an announcement not being clear as crystal or particular – an equivocalness brought about because of poor choice of words.

  1. Ambiguity in Language of Law

Numerous examples of ambiguity in law can be found in Indian cases. For instance in India a case qualifies for the punishment of death penalty only if it is ‘rare of the rarest cases’. This principle was laid down in the Indian landmark case of Bacchan Singh v. State of Punjab[5] and was further approved by the apex court in the case of “Macchi Singh v. State of Punjab”[6]. However, the phrase ‘rarest of rare’ is interested in distinctive interpretations by diverse judges as there are no parameters to characterize it. Once more, in view of this unspecific nature, there is significant perplexity concerning what case can go under the ambit of this principle. Because of this disarray, it basically turns into a matter of presumption of the judge and his interpretation of the phrase in respect to whether the specific case falls under the ambit of the principle. An alternate case of equivocalness in law can be – the use of the word ‘child’. There is no particular meaning of child given anywhere in law. Diverse procurements of law characterize a child differently. This in result causes confusion among individuals concerning who precisely can be called as a child. The vicinity of uncertainty that leads to diverse interpretations can be connected generally with an idea that exists in the field of Law of Contracts which particularly manages absence of understanding between the two parties to the contract. It is called – ‘consensus ad idem’ which if translated truly means meeting of minds.[7] When the parties to a contract don’t concur on the same thing in same sense in light of the object being referred to being vague or unverifiable or unspecified at the time of making of the contract, there is said to be absence of consensus between the parties; the absence of consensus ad idem renders a contract void ab initio (which actually means void from the earliest starting point, in the field of contract law it implies that the contract was void from starting or to disentangle didn’t exist according to law. [8] This is basically what happens when the law is vague – there two separate interpretations to it; while one gathering adheres to the first significance, the second party comprehends it as per the second importance; in this way leading to a circumstance where there is no meeting of minds. I shall now discuss a case where how a word of language can cause confusion and ambiguity, the case is that of the ‘Frigalimentimporting co. v. B.n.s. Universal sales Corp.'[9], this case is the situation of idle uncertainty. In this case, the definition of the word – “chicken” ended up being uncertain, which caused confusion in the minds of the seller and the buyer. In this case the plaintiff was a Swiss Company that had ordered solidified eviscerated chicken from a New York wholesaler of poultry. The order called for chicken of two sizes: 1A½ – 2 pounds and 2 A½ – 3 pounds. At the point when the defendants supplied the obliged chicken and the shipment arrived in Europe, the plaintiff discovered that the bigger birds were all stewing chickens. Since he was expecting broilers and fryers, the plaintiff called foul and brought a suit against the seller for breach of contract. The issue that surfaced in the court was: what is a chicken? The plaintiff contended that “chicken” implies a youthful chicken, suitable for broiling and frying. The defendant, however, demanded that a chicken is ” any bird of the genus that meets the contract, satisfying the specifications of weight and quality, including what it calls ‘stewing chicken.’ The judge Friendly, who heard the case, chose that both implications were conceivable. Consequently he announced that the word ‘chicken’ is ambiguous, and he decided to look into the contract to see if it offered any aid to the interpretation of such a word. Thus, ambiguity can arise anywhere in law at any point.

  1. Removing Ambiguity – Purposive Rule of Interpretation

From the play ‘The Merchant of Venice’, it can be effortlessly induced that when the play was composed, lawyers did not give careful consideration to the dialect they utilized while making the understandings or proclamations of law. Had this not been the situation, Shylock’s lawyer would have been considerably more watchful while creating the bond between Shylock and Antonio, and would have created it in such a way, to the point that the provision of providing for one pound of flesh would have included accompanying blood too. Such discrepancies creep up in law time to time and the aim is to do away with them. I argue that a solution to this is purposive rule of interpretation. Purposive tenet of interpretation or interpreting a statute purposively suggests that a statute or law ought to be interpreted in the light of the plan or purpose of the legislature behind ordering of such statute or law; instead of drawing the significance out of it literally just. Such interpretation gets to be exceedingly critical in cases where interpreting a statute literally provides for it such a significance, to the point that couldn’t have been the purpose of the legislature whatsoever, behind establishing the said statute. In the case of “UP BhoodanYagya Samiti v. Brij Kishore”[10], the significance of the word – “landless” was in clash. Under the scheme launched by UP Bhoodan yagya samiti, under the UP Bhoodan Yagya Samiti Act, 1953, all the individuals who were landless were profited by giving of certain measure of agriculture land by the government. “Landless” here was characterized as some person who does not have rural land. For this situation, the purpose behind launching such scheme was to give rural land to poor, dejected, unemployed individuals, with the goal that they can get occupied with farming segment and bring home income for themselves. However, if one literally interprets the saying landless, a landless individual can likewise be an individual, living in a city, well employed and having a sound monetary status however not having any agrarian land. He will likewise go under the ambit of landless and hence be qualified for the land under the scheme. At the same time the aim of the administration was as opposed to this; through this scheme, it just proposed to loan some assistance to the ones in need of it and not any individual who does not have land. For this situation, the court moved from the strict principle of interpretation and interpreted the saying landless to mean somebody who did not have land, as well as, somebody who was poor, unemployed and did not have whatever other method for money. The purposive tenet of interpretation was connected here legitimately and suitably. In the case of “Santa Singh v. State of Punjab”[11], the word “hear” came into question. Section 235(2) of Crpc1973[12] states that, ‘If the accused is convicted, then the judge shall hear the accused on the question of sentence and then pass sentence on him according to law..’ This intimates that post-conviction and pre– sentence period, an accused is given a chance to present before the judiciary any confirmation which may help in diminishing his sentence. Regardless, in the present case, it was battled by the advocate of the petitioners that the platitude – ‘hear’, literally interpreted, means showing of oral testimony just. However the reason behind insertion of such an announcement in Crpc was to let the accused give any appearance of testimony which may help in dropping down the sentence. The judiciary chose to interpret the idiom “hear” in the segment purposively and not strictly or literally. The accused was allowed to present in the witness of the court testimony other than oral testimony. This case also, is a flawless outline of exhibiting the development from strict standard of interpretation to the purposive rule. Here furthermore, the application of purposive guideline helped in rendering of sensible, just and sensible decision. Thus, the two samples displayed by means of the aforementioned cases consummately show the picture of how hopelessly wrong choice could have been taken had it not been for the purposive rule of interpretation. The previously stated two cases are clear samples showing the vitality of purposive rule and its effective use in expulsion of vagueness from law.

  1. The Challenge in Understanding the Language of Law

Language of law is intended to be completely clear to rule out any uncertainty and for proper understanding of the individuals. On the other hand, years of refining and the exertions of lawyers and judges to make the language of law clear has made it, even tougher to comprehend. It has frequently been clowned upon lawyers that the moment you read something which you can’t comprehend, you can practically make sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. Take for instance this case made by an English critic, suppose, When a man wants to present an orange to another, he would say: “I give you this orange, you may do with it whatever you may please! “but when a lawyer does it, he says it, this way: “Know all men by these present that I hereby give, grant, bargain, sell, release, convey, transfer and quitclaim all my right, title, interest, benefit and use whatsoever in, of and concerning this chattel otherwise known as an orange, or citrus orantium, together with all the appurtenances thereto of skin, pulp, pip rind, seeds and juice for his own benefit, to himself and heirs in fee simple forever, free from all liens, encumbrances, easements, limitations, restraints or conditions whatsoever, any and all prior deeds, transfers or other documents whatsoever, now or anywhere made to the contrary notwithstanding, with full power to bite, cut, suck or otherwise eat the said orange or give away the same, with or without its skin, pulp, pip, rind, seeds or juice.”[13] On the off chance that one is asked to figure out the distinction between the two announcements, one will be unable to discover any, for the plan of the ones expressing it, is same: to give an orange to the next! At that point what is the reason behind expressing such a straightforward thing in such a complex manner? This is the key question, the response to which is most looked for after by law students, academicians and obviously, above all – by a common man! The answer is this: If one looks carefully at the two announcements, one CAN draw a fine contrast between the two, all things considered! At the point when the common man gives the orange, he provides for it with an aim to dole it out and let the client use it in ‘whatever manner he satisfies.’ The expression – whatever manner, confers most extensive conceivable intending to the proposition of the provider in regards to what can anyone do the orange; the announcement is expressed in a manner to reflect that the supplier does not give a second thought what utilize the orange is made of after he doles it out, whether legal or illegal. For the same reason, the taker may utilize the orange for “at all” reason he wishes to. He may consume it or toss it at somebody – whatever he seeks; he may even do that which might not have been the aim of the supplier whatsoever, while doling out the orange! The lawyer in any case, leaves no degree for such setback. He verifies that the orange is utilized just for the reason for which it is implied i.e. to consume. The specifics specified in his announcement: i.e. “full power to bite, cut, suck, or destroy or to offer the orange to somebody, to bite, cut, suck or consume…” Does exclude the provision under which the taker may toss the orange at somebody, or hit some individual. The example is an agreeable outline of what amount logical the language must be, to make the law as clear as possible. Be that as it may, in the meantime, it is likewise obvious from the same case, how troublesome it can get to be for a common man to comprehend the content of the law and to translate it and draw right deduction out of it. In the meantime, it is likewise clear, again from the same sample that such trouble is in some cases important to emerge.

  1. Conclusion

Accordingly it can be said that equivocalness can emerge in language somewhat because of the restrictions of the English language regarding the use of words. The presence of homonyms, homographs, homophones and so on further add to the uncertainty that may be created in adaptable utilization of the language. Presence of such vagueness is predominant in language, then again, when this kind of uncertainty emerges in the field of law, it turns into a matter of serious concern, as it can give rise to the possibility of turning over the decisions of the courts in important cases, or hamper the process of serving justice in a manner that might result in unfair, unjust and unreasonable decisions by the court. Along these lines a need to expel such vagueness from the field of law emerges. Albeit, in a push to make law unambiguous and perplexity free, the language of law may get to be too much unpredictable and hard to comprehend for the general masses or actually for law academicians, researchers, for lawyers and judges; however unless an alternate more suitable system to evacuate vagueness is discovered, increasing the complexity seems the only if somewhat unreasonable, yet conceivable decision.

[1] David Mellinkoff, “The Language of Law,” Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1983. [2] Meriam Webster Online Dictionary;, Retrieved on 5th Nov, 2014. [3] Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Edition [4] Lectric law Library;, retrieved on 5th Nov, 2014. [5] AIR 1980 SC 898 [6] (1980) 2 SCR 864 [7] Household Fire and Carriage Accident Insurance co. Ltd. v Grant (1879) 4 Ex D 216; [8], Retrieved on 5th Nov, 2014 [9] Frigaliment Importing co. v B.N.S. International sales Corp190 F. Supp. 116, 1960 U.S. Dist. [10] AIR 1988 SCC 2239 [11] AIR 1976 SCC 2386 [12] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, s. 235(2) [13], Retrieved on 15th Nov, 2014

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The Language of Law - An Interpretation. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved September 25, 2022 , from

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