A court should not enlarge the scope of the legislation

In Union of India and Anr. v. Deoki Nandan Aggarwal, (1992) 1 Suppl. SCC 323, this Court sounded the note of caution against the court usurping the role of legislator in the guise of interpretation. The court observed:

14. …it is not the duty of the court either to enlarge the scope of the legislation or the intention of the legislature when the language of the provision is plain and unambiguous. The court cannot rewrite, recast or reframe the legislation for the very good reason that it has no power to legislate. The power to legislate has not been conferred on the courts. The court cannot add words to a statute or read words into it which are not there. Assuming there is a defect or an omission in the words used by the legislature the court could not go to its aid to correct or make up the deficiency. Courts shall decide what the law is and not what it should be. The court of course adopts a construction which will carry out the obvious intention of the legislature but could not legislate itself. But to invoke judicial activism to set at naught the legislative judgment is subversive of the constitutional harmony and comity of instrumentalities….

In Raghunath Rai Bareja and Anr. v. Punjab National Bank and Ors., (2007) 2 SCC 230 while observing that it is the task of the elected representatives of the people to legislate and not that of the Judge even if it results in hardship or inconvenience, Supreme Court quoted in affirmation, the observation of Justice Frankfurter of the US Supreme Court which is as follows:

As stated by Justice Frankfurter of the US Supreme Court (see “Of Law and Men: Papers and addresses of Felix Frankfurter”)

Even within their area of choice the courts are not at large. They are confined by the nature and scope of the judicial function in its particular exercise in the field of interpretation. They are under the constraints imposed by the judicial function in our democratic society. As a matter of verbal recognition certainly, no one will gainsay that the function in construing a statute is to ascertain the meaning of words used by the legislator. To go beyond it is to usurp a power which our democracy has lodged in its elected legislature. The great judges have constantly admonished there bretheren of the need for discipline in observing the limitations. A judge must not rewrite a statute, neither to enlarge nor to contract it. Whatever temptations the statesmanship of policy- making might wisely suggest, construction must eschew interpolation and evisceration. He must not read in by way of creation. He must not read out except to avoid patent nonsense or internal contradiction.

In Duport Steels Ltd. v. Sirs [1980] 1 All ER 529, 534, Lord Scarman expounded the legal position in the following words:

But in the field of statute law the judge must be obedient to the will of Parliament as expressed in its enactments. In this field Parliament makes and unmakes the law. The judge’s duty is to interpret and to apply the law not to change it to meet th e judge’s idea of what justice requires. Interpretation does, of course, imply in the interpreter a power of choice where differing construction are possible. But our law require the judge to choose the construction which in his judgment best meets the legislative purpose of the enactment. If the result be unjust but inevitable, the judge may say so and invite Parliament to reconsider its provision. But he must not deny the statute. [AIR 2010 SC 1402 : JT 2010 (1) SC 259 : (2010) 1 SCALE 188 : (2010) 3 SCC 83 : (2010) 1 SCR 219]


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