Interpretation of Statutes; Presumption Against Retrospectivity

Interpretation of Statutes : Every statute is prima facie prospective unless it is expressly or by necessary implication made to have a retrospective operation. However it is not necessary that an express provision be made to make a statute retrospective. Presumption against retrospectivity may be rebutted by necessary implication especially in a case where the new law is made to cure an acknowledged evil for benefit of the community as a whole.

# Interpretation of Statutes

Generally, an Act should always be regarded as prospective in nature unless the legislature has clearly intended the provisions of the said Act to be made applicable with retrospective effect. It is a cardinal principle of construction that every statute is prima facie prospective unless it is expressly or by necessary implication made to have a retrospective operation.

The aforesaid rule in general is applicable where the object of the statute is to affect vested rights or to impose new burdens or to impair existing obligations. Unless there are words in the statute sufficient to show the intention of the legislature to affect existing rights, it is deemed to be prospective only – “nova constitutio futuris formam imponere debet non praeteritis” – a new law ought to regulate what is to follow, not the past.

It is not necessary that an express provision be made to make a statute retrospective and the presumption against retrospectivity may be rebutted by necessary implication especially in a case where the new law is made to cure an acknowledged evil for the benefit of the community as a whole.

[The above discussion on Interpretation of Statutes extracted from M/s. Shakti Tubes Ltd. Vs. State of Bihar, July 7, 2009 in which the Supreme Court of India held that though the Interest on Delayed Payment to Small Scale Industries Act, 1993 in question is a welfare legislation which was enacted to protect the interest of the suppliers, especially suppliers of the nature of a small scale industry, but, at the same time, the intention and the purpose of the Act cannot be lost sight of and the Act in question cannot be given a retrospective effect so long as such an intention is not clearly made out and derived from the Act itself.

The Apex Court relied on Zile Singh v. State of Haryana (2004) 8 SCC 1 and referred Principles of Statutory Interpretation by Justice G.P. Singh, 9th Edn., 2004 at p.438 for arriving to the conclusion.]

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