Rule Of Beneficial Construction
In the Maxwell’s Interpretation of Statutes, 12th Edn. the statement of law relating to its operation is stated as: "Perhaps no rule of construction is more firmly established than thus - that a retrospective operation is not to be given to a statute so as to impair an existing right or obligation, otherwise than as regards matters of procedure, unless that effect cannot be avoided without doing violence to the language of the enactment. If the enactment is expressed in language which is fairly capable of either interpretation, it ought to be construed as prospective only. The rule has, in fact, two aspects, for it, "involves another and subordinate rule, to the effect that a statute is not to be construed so as to have a greater retrospective operation than its language renders necessary”.
The rule of beneficial construction requires that ex-post facto law should be applied to reduce the rigorous sentence of the previous law on the same subject. Such a law is not affected by Article 20(1). The principle is based upon the legal maxim “Salus Populi Est Suprema Lex” which means the welfare of the people is the supreme for the law. It is inspired by principles of justice, equity and good conscience.
In Francis Bennion's Statutory Interpretation, 2nd Edn, the statement of law is stated as follows: "The essential idea of legal system is that current law should govern current activities. Elsewhere in this work a particular Act is likened to a floodlight switched on or off, and the general body of law to the circumambient air. Clumsy though these images are, they show the inappropriateness of retrospective laws. If we do something today, we feel that the law applying to it should be the law in force today, not tomorrow's backward adjustment of it. Such, we believe, is the nature of law. Dislike of ex-post facto law is enshrined in the United States Constitution and in the Constitution of many American States, which forbid it. The true principle is that lex prospicit non respicit (law looks forward not back). As Willes, J. said retrospective legislation is 'contrary to the general principle that legislation by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated ought, when introduced for the first time, to deal with future acts, and ought not to change the character of past transaction carried on upon the faith of the then existing law."
In T. Baral Vs. Henry An Hoe a complaint was lodged against the respondent under Sec.16(1)(a) on August 16, 1975 for having committed an offence punishable under sec.16(1)(a) read with sec.7 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act as amended by the amending Actof 1973. On the date of the commission of the alleged offence i.e. on 16th August 1975, the law in force in the State of West Bengal was the Amendment Act which provided that such an offence would be punishable with imprisonment for life. On 1st April, 1976 enacted the Prevention of Food Adulteration (Amendment) Act,1976 which reduced the maximum punishment of life imprisonment as provided by the West Bengal Amendment Act to 3 years imprisonment. The question for determination was whether the pending proceedings would be governed by the procedure under sec.16-A as inserted by Central Amendment Act 34 of 1976. The High Court held that the West Bengal Amendment would be deemed to have been obliterated because of the central amendment. Confirming the decision of the Supreme Court held:
“Nothing really turns on the language of Section 16(1)(a) because the Central Amendment Act has not created a new offence thereby but dealt with the same offence. It is only retroactive criminal legislation that is prohibited under Article 20(1). It is quite clear that in so far as the central amendment Act creates new offences of enhances punishment for a particular type of offence no person shall be convicted by such ex-post facto law nor can the enhanced punishment prescribed by the amendment be applicable. But in so far as the Central amendment Act reduces the punishment for an offence punishable under section 16(1) (a) of the Act, there is no reasons why the accused should not have the benefit of such reduced punishment.
The rule of beneficial construction requires that even ex-post facto law of such a type should be applied to mitigate the rigour of the law. This principle is based both on sound reason and common sense. This finds support in a passage that “A retrospective Statute is different from an ex-post facto statute”.
In Garikapati Veeraya v. N. Subbiah Choudhry, the SC stated that "The golden rule of construction is that, in the absence of anything in the enactment to show that it is to have retrospective operation, it cannot be so construed as to have the effect of altering the law applicable to a claim in litigation at the time when the Act was passed."
In the American case Calder Vs. Bull , Chase,J., said “Every Ex-post facto law must necessarily be retrospective, but every retrospective law is not an ex-post facto law”.
In R. Vs. Youle, Matin,B. said in the oft quoted passage: “ If a statute deals with a particular clause of offences, and a subsequent Act is passed which deals with precisely the same offences, and a different punishment is imposed by the later Act, I think that, in effect, the legislature had declared that the new Act shall be substituted for the earlier Act.
This rule is however subject to the limitation contained in Article 20(1) against ex-post facto law providing for a greater punishment and has also no application where the offence described in the later Act is not the same as in the earlier Act i.e. when the essential ingredients of the two offences are different”.
In Ratan Lal Vs.State of Punjab, a boy of 16 years was convicted for committing an offence of house-trespass and outraging the modesty of a girl aged 7 years. The magistrate sentenced him for six months rigorous imprisonment and also imposed fine. After the judgment of magistrate, the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 came into force. It provided that a person below 21 years of age should not ordinarily be sentenced to imprisonment. The Supreme Court by a majority of 2 to 1 held that the rule of beneficial interpretation required that ex-post facto could be applied to reduce the punishment. So an ex-post facto law which beneficial to the accused is not prohibited by clause (1) of Article 20.
The Cardinal Principle of construction of a statute is that every statute was prima facie a prospective “unless it is expressly or by necessary implication made to have retrospective operation”. When a procedural law is considered, it is always retroactive i.e., came into effect from past date so the question of retrospective operation shall arise in substantive laws only. Also, a criminal law shall always have retroactive operation whereas the civil law may have retrospective or retroactive operation. So, by observing the different opinions of jurists and experts in India on retrospective and retroactive laws, a conclusion may be drawn in such a way that only substantive civil laws can be operated retrospectively if the statute specifically prescribes it or there exists large interest of the public as whole otherwise all statutes shall be operated retroactively.