Heydon’s Case : an Analysis

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The concept of interpretation of a Statute cannot be a static one. Though “Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes” is a virtual Bible for analysing the concept, even still, courts have departed from the principles laid down therein depending upon the social needs of the community, economic exigencies of time and several other factors. One of the controversial areas in which courts had to interpret the taxing statute is relating to the retrospective operation of the statute. This can be viewed with the background of various amendments made in sections 115J, 115JA and 115JB of the Income-tax Act, 1961. Let us look at some of the decided cases dealing with interpretation of retrospective nature of an amendment.

The mischief rule, the oldest of the rules of interpretation, reflects a balance of the legislative and judicial powers which some consider renders it inapplicable today. It presumes a legal system in which legislative intervention in the common law is an exceptional occurrence, used only to address a "mischief" or "defect" in the common law. Though it may be expressed in outdated terms, however, the rule bears similarities to the purposive and schematic approaches to interpretation which have been developed by modern day courts. The mischief rule has been given legislative force in a number of common law jurisdictions and is still cited by the courts. The rule was recently referred to in the Irish High Court, where Budd J identified the need to examine "the mischief sought to be addressed by the passing of An Blascaod Mór National Historic Park Act, 1989.” The mischief rule was set out in Heydon's case, where it was held that four matters might be considered in the interpretation of statutes:

1. "What was the common law before the making of an Act;
2. What was the...
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