The saying ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ is a crucial rule for understanding laws. In simple terms, it means that we should interpret laws in a way that makes them work and have an effect, rather than making them useless. This means that when we read a law, we should try to understand it in a way that makes it do what it’s supposed to do.
Ut res magis valeat quam pereat is a Latin legal maxim that translates to “let the thing be more valued than it perishes” or “it is better for a thing to have an effect than to be made void.” This principle is commonly applied in the interpretation of statutes and legal documents.
In simple terms, ut res magis valeat quam pereat means that when interpreting laws or legal provisions, courts should strive to give them a meaning that allows them to be effective and operational rather than interpreting them in a way that renders them useless or void. The goal is to ensure that laws and legal instruments serve their intended purposes and that they are not nullified due to overly restrictive or narrow interpretations. This principle underscores the importance of interpreting laws in a manner that upholds their practicality and usefulness.
The purpose of the legal maxim ut res magis valeat quam pereat is to ensure the effective and meaningful application of laws and legal provisions. It emphasises that when interpreting statutes or legal documents, the courts should adopt an interpretation that preserves their functionality and intent, rather than an interpretation that renders them meaningless or ineffective.
This principle promotes the rule of law, fairness and justice by preventing legal instruments from becoming mere formalities. It encourages a flexible and practical approach to legal interpretation, aiming to prevent laws from being nullified or causing unintended consequences due to overly strict or narrow interpretations, ultimately serving the broader goals of justice and the rule of law.
The maxim ut res magis valeat quam pereat is based on the following principles and presumptions:
The doctrine of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ is based on several important ideas:
- A law should not be declared invalid just because it is vague or unclear.
- When the courts interpret a law, the primary goal is to ensure that the law remains valid and effective.
- When determining the constitutionality of a law, the courts should start with the assumption that the law is constitutional.
- The correct interpretation of a law is one that aligns with the intention of the lawmakers. The legislature’s goal is to make all parts of the law useful for achieving its intended purpose.
- Interpreting a law in a way that makes any part of it useless or unworkable goes against the legislature’s intent.
- Courts have the authority to declare a law unconstitutional, but they should not introduce vagueness or unconstitutionality into a law by adopting an unusual interpretation or construing it in a specific manner.
In the case of Avtar Singh v. the State of Punjab (1965) SC, there was a dispute over the interpretation of Section 39 of the Electricity Act, 1910. The appellant had been found guilty of stealing electricity from the Punjab State Electricity Board under Section 39 of the Electricity Act. The respondent had also taken action against him under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code.
In his appeal, the appellant did not contest the fact that he had committed theft but argued that his conviction was unlawful due to certain statutory provisions.
Section 39 of the Indian Electricity Act, 1910 stated that anyone who dishonestly abstracts, consumes, or uses energy would be considered to have committed theft under the Indian Penal Code. Therefore, according to Section 39, a person found guilty would be punished under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 50 of the Indian Electricity Act, 1910 outlined the procedure for prosecution and stated that no prosecution could be initiated against anyone for an offence under the Act unless it was done at the behest of the Government, an Electrical Inspector, or a person who was affected by the offence.
The appellant argued that he could not be convicted under Section 39 because the required procedure for prosecution, as specified in Section 50, had not been followed. He claimed that his prosecution was flawed and legally invalid because it had not been initiated by the Government, an Electrical Inspector, or an affected person.
The Supreme Court ruled that since the offence was related to the Electricity Act and not the Indian Penal Code, the procedure outlined in Section 50 must have been adhered to. Consequently, the appellant’s conviction was overturned.
In this case, the Court applied the doctrine of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat,’ ensuring that the interpretation adopted did not render Section 50 ineffective and pointless.
In the case of KB Nagpur, MD (Ayurvedic) v. the Union of India (2012) SC, the issue at hand concerned the interpretation of Section 7(1) of the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970. This provision stated that the President, Vice President, or a member of the Central Council would remain in office until their successor was duly elected or nominated. A part of the clause that added “or until his successor shall have been duly elected or nominated, whichever is longer” was challenged as unconstitutional and in violation of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court, applying the principle of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat,’ upheld the constitutionality of Section 7(1). The Court reasoned that Parliament had included this provision to address situations where the election to these positions might be delayed for various reasons. This ensured that there would be no vacancy in the membership of the Central Council.
Consequently, the Court interpreted Section 7(1) in a way that made it effective and functional, preserving its intended purpose.
In the case of D. Salbaba v. the Bar Council of India (2003) SC, the Supreme Court had to interpret Section 48AA of the Advocates Act 1961. Here’s a summary of the case:
The petitioner, who was a physically challenged advocate, also operated an STD booth that was allotted to him under the quota for handicapped persons. He faced a complaint alleging professional misconduct. On February 20, 2001, the Bar Council of India instructed him to surrender the booth, but he did not comply within the specified timeframe. On March 31, 2001, the Bar Council of India issued an order directing the State Bar Council to remove the advocate’s name from the roll of advocates. The advocate later surrendered the booth and filed a review petition against the Bar Council’s order. However, his petition was dismissed on August 26, 2001, citing that it was filed beyond the time limit.
The advocate appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. Section 48AA of the Advocates Act allowed for the review of the Bar Council of India’s decision or order within 60 days from the date of that order. The crucial question was the interpretation of “sixty days from the date of that order.”
The Supreme Court, in line with the doctine of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat,’ ruled that the phrase “sixty days from the date of that order” should be understood as the date when the order was communicated to or when the advocate had actual or constructive knowledge of the order that he wanted to review. By interpreting Section 48AA in this manner, the Court made it more effective in ensuring fairness.
As a result, the Supreme Court set aside the Bar Council of India’s order and the advocate’s enrollment was reinstated.
In the case of University of Calcutta and Others v. Pritam Rooj (2009) Cal HC, a student had requested to inspect his answer sheets through an RTI (Right to Information) application. However, the Public Information Officer (PIO), who was the Registrar of the University, declined the request, citing an exemption under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, 2005. Subsequently, the student filed a writ petition before the Calcutta High Court, seeking access to his answer sheets for re-evaluation by an expert examiner. This case presented two opposing perspectives: one from the public authorities, arguing that the application of the RTI Act would disrupt the system and the other from information seekers, asserting their right to access answer scripts as conferred by the Act.
In this situation, the Court recognised the need to apply the principle of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat.’ The Court, through its judgment, allowed the writ petition and directed the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to grant inspection of answer sheets to information seekers.
However, the plea for re-evaluation was denied, with the option for students to seek relief on this matter through appropriate proceedings. The Court drew inspiration from the decision in Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries Ltd. (1940), where it was held that when faced with two possible interpretations of a law and the narrower interpretation would fail to achieve the clear purpose of the legislation, the broader interpretation should be embraced. This decision was based on the belief that Parliament enacts laws to bring about effective results and a construction leading to the ineffectiveness of legislation should be avoided.
The Supreme Court’s views on the interpretation of statutes can be summarised as follows:
In the case of Tinsukhia Electric Supply Co. Ltd. v. the State of Assam (1990), the Supreme Court emphasised that courts tend to avoid interpretations of statutes that would render them ineffective or pointless. Statutes and their provisions should be interpreted to make them effective and operative. However, if a statute is completely vague and its language is meaningless, it may be declared void for vagueness.
In Sankar Ram and Co. v. Kasi Naicker (2003), the Supreme Court established a presumption that legislative intent is to give effect to every part of a statute. It is a fundamental rule of interpretation that no word or provision should be considered redundant or unnecessary unless there are compelling reasons to do so based on the statute’s scheme and objectives, i.e. application of doctrine of ut res magis valeat quam pereat.
In Maharashtra Land Development Corporation v. the State of Maharashtra (2010), the Supreme Court stressed the importance of understanding every word and phrase in the context of the statute. Each word and phrase should be given significance to avoid rendering them redundant.
In Badshah v. Urmila Badshah Godse (2014), the Supreme Court advocated for interpreting statutes in a way that facilitates the smooth functioning of the system for which the statute was enacted or application of ut res magis valeat quam pereat. When there are alternative constructions, the Court should choose the one that doesn’t hinder the statute’s purpose. A construction leading to the statute’s futility should be avoided.
In Swami Atmananda v. Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam (2005), the Supreme Court emphasised the need to read statutes reasonably and construe them to make them workable which forms the basis of doctrine of ut res magis valeat quam pereat.
In H.S. Vankani v. the State of Gujarat (2010), the Supreme Court noted that the maxim ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ also means that when the statute’s obvious intention creates obstacles in implementation, the Court should find ways to overcome these obstacles to avoid absurd results. Statutory interpretation should not lead to manifest absurdity, futility, injustice, inconvenience, or anomaly.
These principles guide the Supreme Court in interpreting statutes in a manner that ensures they serve their intended purpose and are not rendered ineffective or meaningless.
The legal maxim ut res magis valeat quam pereat serves as a guiding principle in legal interpretation, aiming to ensure that laws and legal provisions remain relevant, purposeful and effective. By prioritising the preservation of a law’s intended function over rendering it void or meaningless, this maxim promotes fairness, justice and the rule of law.
The doctrine of ut res magis valeat quam pereat encourages a balanced approach to legal analysis, preventing the undue restriction of rights or the unintended consequences of overly strict interpretations. Ultimately, this principle upholds the integrity of the legal system by ensuring that laws continue to serve their intended purposes, adapting to changing circumstances while maintaining consistency and coherence in legal decision-making.
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