Mischief Rule Of Statutory Interpretation

Author: Divya V Hegde, 3rd-year B.A.LL.B(Hons), University Law College, Bangalore University.


Understanding of legal legislature is difficult for any laymen, sometime even the legal luminaries find it difficult to understand the meaning or the true sense of the statutes thus to overcome this exertion, a branch of legal studies deals with the interpretation of the statues where there is a number of doctrines or rules to interpret the statute. To interpret means that to understand the factual meaning of the legislation and to make it justifiable for the residents. The only end of the judiciary is to provide justice to its people in order to do so it relies on the legislation enacted by the legislators or the parliamentarians whose intention of enacting a law is to provide justice thus their true intention behind the statutes is also taken into the consideration while deciding the cases by the judiciary. Only the court of law can elucidate the meaning of the legal code.


  • Intricacy of rules concerning the idea of the subject, various designers and the mix of lawful and specialized language can bring about disjointedness, unclear and uncertain language.
  • Expectation of future occasions prompts the utilization of vague terms. The incomprehensible errand of expecting each conceivable situation likewise prompts the utilization of uncertain language. Judges accordingly need to decipher rules due to the holes in law. Instances of indeterminate language incorporate words, for example, “reasonable”. For this circumstance, the courts are answerable for figuring out what establishes “reasonable”.
  • The multi-layered nature of language. Language, words and expressions are an uncertain type of correspondence. Words can have numerous definitions and implications. Each gathering in court will use the definition and importance of the language generally worthwhile to their specific need. It is dependent upon the courts to choose the rightest utilization of the language utilized.

Without such rules, it will in the long run be hard to fathom the enactment, yet in addition to upholding it, with changing conditions that assembly and the legal executive may not have anticipated at whatever point the enactment was made. There are no proper rules that indicate which understanding of law ought to be utilized and the standards of translation that have effectively been set up are not actually real laws.

There have been some broad norms of understanding that have likewise been implemented very so often by the legal executive. There are explicitly three standards of deciphering resolutions as per the English cases and are as follows:

  • Literal interpretation
  • Golden rule of interpretation
  • Mischief rule of interpretation


This is a crucial rule to follow when it comes to statutory interpretation. It’s also classified as the “law in Heydon’s Case. The following rules were established in this important case reported by Lord Coke and resolved by the Barons of the Exchequer in the 16th century: The four factors must be considered for the accurate and correct reading of all laws in general, whether they are penal or advantageous, restrictive or enlarging of the common law –

  1. What was the common law before the Act was passed?
  2. What was the wrongdoing and defect that the common law did not cover?
  3. What solution has Parliament resolved and named to treat the Commonwealth’s “disease”?
  4. The real reasons for the treatment.

Then it is the intention of all Judges to render such a construction as to suppress the wrongdoing and advance the remedy. Before we go any further, a word of caution is necessary. Lord Coke used the same words – “disease of the Commonwealth” – in his study, and it is important to remember that words had different meanings at the time. It is important to find their significance at the hour of composing. From the fourteenth century to the furthest limit of the seventeenth, the significance of illness was the absence of simplicity, uneasiness or pain and the Commonwealth, obviously, implied the Country.

As per an early case, The Longford (1889) 14 P.D. 34 an Act should be understood as though one were deciphering it on the day it was passed. Consequently, we ask ourselves what the word implied on the day it was articulated if by similarity we contend that the equivalent can be said of a judgment. A ton of work has been done on this specific subject which has a place with Interpretation of Statute due to the curious idea of its activity as it is considered to find Parliament’s intentions and to give the appointed authority more watchfulness than some other principle as it permits him to successfully settle on Parliament’s goal. And yet it can be contended that this sabotages Parliament’s matchless quality and is undemocratic as it removes law-production choices from the governing body. There’s Judicial Overreach, so this discussion has been considered in favour by numerous writers in their books “Interpretation of Statutes” by Kafaltiya, B.M. Gandhi, Maxwell and “Principles of Statutory Interpretation” by G.P. Singh and a lot more where this view is held.

In the case, Smith v. Hughes [1] the instances of the case being defendant was a usual prostitute who lived at No. 39 Curzon Street, London and cast-off the properties for the purposes of prostitution. On November 4, 1959, between 8.50 p.m. furthermore, 9.05 p.m. the respondent requested men passing in the road, for the motivations behind prostitution, from the first-floor overhang of No. 39 Curzon Street (the gallery being some 8–10 feet above road level). The respondent’s technique for requesting the men was:

  • to stand out for them to her by tapping on the gallery railing with some metal article and by murmuring at them as they passed in the road underneath her and
  • having so stood out for them, to chat with them and welcome them to come inside the premises with so much words as ‘Might you want to come up here a short time?’ simultaneously as she demonstrated the right entryway of the premises.

It was battled for the benefit of the litigant inter alia, that the gallery was not ‘in a Street’ under the significance of section 1(1) of the Street Offenses Act, 1959, and that in like manner no offence had been submitted. The sole inquiry here is whether in those conditions the appealing party was requesting in a road or public spot. The expressions of section 1(1) of the Act are in this structure: ‘It will be an offence for a typical prostitute to saunter or request in a road or public spot with the end goal of prostitution’. It was held by the justice as, that it does not say there explicitly that the individual who is doing the requesting should be on the road. Similarly, it does not say that it is sufficient if the individual who gets the client or to whom it is tended to be on the road. As far as it concerns, “I approach the matter by thinking about what the mistake is focused on by this Act. Everyone realizes that this was an Act planned to tidy up the roads, to empower individuals to stroll along the roads without being attacked or requested by normal prostitutes. Seen around there, it can matter little whether the prostitute is requesting while in the road or is remaining in an entryway or on an overhang, or at a window, or whether the window is closed or open or half-open; for each situation, her objective is projected to and routed to someone strolling in the road. As far as it matters for me, I am substance to put together my choice with respect to that ground and that ground alone”.

In another case, Royal College of Nursing v DHSS [2], it was the royal college for nurses which questioned the legality of the terminations of the fetus which was being carried out by the nurses. Under the act of Offences against the Person Act 1861, it makes it illegal to terminate a fetus. Whereas the abortions Act granted provisions for the medically qualified doctor to carry out the termination only if certain conditions are met. In the current times, surgical abortions are being swapped with hormonal pills which could be even directed by nurses. It was held by the court like that, the act done by the nurses was legal, as the true mischief of the act was to curb the ounces of the backdoor abortion that might be carried out without the medical facility, and since these nurses are qualified to administer this was held legal.

Corkery v Carpenter [3], in this case, the mischief of riding any transport under the influence of alcohol would amount to the wrong under the Act, Licensing Act 1872, as the provision of the legislature banned the moving of the carriages under the influence, thus the bicycle rider in this case who was under the influence of alcohol was also held liable as the mischief under the Act was to protect the rider and other passersby on the roads.


It can be observed that the judge’s discretion is given a wider scope in this rule thus raising concerns over the undemocratic approach as this might be the judicial overuse of the power to interpret the statutes. Though this is a controversy, yet this rule also plays an important role in preventing absurd sentencing and adapts to the changing scenario. Thus, the mischief rule which is being followed from way back in the 16th century is now being replaced by the purposive interpretation.


  1. [1960] 1 WLR 830
  2. [1981] 2 WLR 279
  3. [1951] 1 KB 102