Legal Maxim: Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat

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Legal Maxim: ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’

“If the words were not entirely meaningless, I would be obliged to find some interpretation, rather than declaring them void due to uncertainty.”

Farwell J.

The legal maxim ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ is a significant principle in the interpretation of statutes, essentially meaning that an enactment or statute should be construed in a way that gives it effect and prevents it from becoming void.

Exploring the Meaning

The maxim emphasizes the importance of giving effect to legal provisions, avoiding interpretations that render them ineffective or futile. When language in a provision is imprecise or ambiguous, leading to various possible interpretations, the courts should interpret it in a way that preserves the effectiveness of the statute.

Basis of the Maxim

The principle of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ is founded on several key principles and presumptions:

  • Avoiding declaring statutes void due to vagueness.
  • Upholding the survival of the law is the primary consideration during interpretation.
  • Presuming the constitutionality of statutes in constitutional challenges.
  • Interpreting statutes in line with legislative intent to ensure all provisions serve the statute’s purpose.
  • Preventing interpretations that render provisions inoperative, would contradict legislative intent.
  • Acknowledging the judiciary’s role in interpreting the law while respecting the legislature’s exclusive authority in creating and repealing legislation.
  • Reserving the power to strike down laws on constitutional grounds, while refraining from introducing vagueness or unconstitutionality through peculiar interpretations or constructions.

Application of the principle ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ in Indian case laws.

Instances in Indian case laws where the principle of ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ has been applied to ensure the effective implementation of statutes.

Avtar Singh v. State of Punjab (1965) SC

In this case, the Supreme Court considered the interpretation of Section 39 of the Electricity Act, of 1910. The appellant was charged with electricity theft under Section 39, which referred the offense to Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code. The appellant argued that his conviction was invalid as the prosecution did not follow the procedure outlined in Section 50. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the appellant, citing the principle of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’, emphasizing the need to prevent construction that would render Section 50 ineffective.

KB Nagpur, MD (Ayurvedic) v. Union of India (2012) SC

In this case, the Supreme Court dealt with the construction of Section 7(1) of the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970. The Court upheld the constitutionality of the clause “or until his successor shall have been duly elected or nominated, whichever is longer,” using the maxim ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ to ensure the effective operation of the provision and prevent any legal vacuum in the Central Council’s membership.

D. Salbaba v. Bar Council of India (2003) SC

The Supreme Court interpreted Section 48AA of the Advocates Act 1961 in this case. The Court emphasized that the expression ‘sixty days from the date of that order’ should be interpreted to mean the date of communication or knowledge of the order for review. Upholding the principle of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’, the Court interpreted Section 48AA to ensure its effective implementation and reinstated the appellant’s enrollment.

University of Calcutta and Others v. Pritam Rooj (2009) Cal HC

In this case, the Calcutta High Court considered an RTI application seeking access to answer sheets. The Court, applying the principle of ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’, allowed inspection of the answer sheets but declined the request for re-evaluation, emphasizing the need for an effective interpretation to avoid rendering the legislation futile. The Court drew upon the decision in Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries Ltd. (1940) to support its stance, emphasizing that legislation should achieve its intended purpose effectively.

Supreme Court’s Perspective

In the case of Tinsukhia Electric Supply Co. Ltd. v. State of Assam (1990), the Supreme Court emphasized that statutes must not be interpreted in a way that renders them meaningless. However, in the case of absolute vagueness, a statute might be deemed void for lack of clarity.

In Sankar Ram and Co. v. Kasi Naicker (2003), the Supreme Court reiterated the presumption that every part of a statute should be given effect. No provision should be considered redundant unless the statute’s scheme and objective suggest otherwise.

In Maharashtra Land Development Corporation v. State of Maharashtra (2010), the Supreme Court stressed the importance of understanding each word and phrase in the context of the statute to avoid rendering any part of it redundant.

In Badshah v. Urmila Badshah Godse (2014), the Supreme Court highlighted the need to adopt constructions that facilitate the smooth functioning of the statute, discarding interpretations that hinder its purpose.

In Swami Atmananda v. Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam (2005), the Supreme Court emphasized the need to interpret statutes reasonably to ensure their workability and effective implementation.

In H.S. Vankani v. State of Gujarat (2010), the Supreme Court emphasized that the maxim ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ compels the courts to find ways to overcome obstacles that prevent the effective implementation of statutes, avoiding absurd results.

Conclusion

As articulated in Fawcett Properties v. Buckingham County Council (1960), even when statutes are obscure or have several possible interpretations, the courts must attribute meaning to them rather than declare them void.

The legislature avoids using superfluous or insignificant words in statutes. Hence, while interpreting provisions, a construction that makes the statute effective and the words relevant should be favored over one that renders the words ineffective and meaningless.

Frequently asked questions

What does ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ mean in legal contexts?

‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ translates to ‘let the thing be rather than not be.’ It emphasizes the need for effective application and interpretation of statutes to prevent provisions from becoming void or meaningless.

How does the principle ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ guide statutory interpretation?

The principle directs courts to interpret statutes in a way that ensures the effective operation of laws and prevents provisions from being rendered futile or redundant.

 
What are the key implications of ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ for the effective functioning of statutes?

The maxim ensures that statutes are interpreted in a manner that upholds their purpose and prevents any provision from becoming ineffective or meaningless.

Are there any exceptions to the application of ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ in legal interpretation?

While the principle emphasizes effective application, it may not apply in cases where the statute’s language is absolutely vague or meaningless, leading to potential voidness, in which case the statute may be declared void for vagueness.

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