Rules of Statutory Interpretation under Iranian Legal system

It has been acknowledged in all the legal systems that the text of the law may sometimes do not provide a clear-cut notion to apply on the cases or in clash with the newly emerged phenomenon the codified legal text proves to be not as helpful as before. This is where the methods and rules of statutory interpretation appear on the scene to serve as a tool to adjudicate on the disputed matters.Under the legal system of Iran, according to Principle 98 of the Constitution, the authority of the interpretation of the Constitution is vested with the Constitutional Guardian Council, which is to be done with the consent of three-fourths of its members. However, the interpretation of the other laws as per Principle 73 of the Constitution falls within the competence of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (i.e. Parliament). However, it is explicitly stated that the intent of this Principle does not prevent the interpretations that judges may make in the course of proceeding i.e. the so-called “Judicial Interpretation”. In addition, if one takes into account the obligation of judges as provided in Principle 167 of the Constitution, the importance of the application of the rules of interpretation would further manifested. The latter provides that the judge is bound to attempt to adjudicate on each case on the basis of the codified law and in the absence of any such law, he has to issue his judgment based on authoritative Islamic sources. Thus, the silence or deficiency of law in the matter, or its brevity or contradictory nature, does not release the judge from the obligation of examining the case and deciding upon it.

Therefore, let us look at the most common rules of statutory interpretation as classified below:

  1. Legal Interpretation: This is the first and most appropriate rule of interpretation. By this rule, the judge shall ascertain what the legislator’s opinion was for passing such legal provision. This rule might be considered as an equivalent to what is called “The Purposive Approach” among the rules of statutory interpretation acknowledged in the Common Law legal system.
  2. Literal Interpretation: By application of such rule, the ordinary meaning of the words would be considered in interpreting the law.
  3. Logical Interpretation: The logic and order underlying the law would be considered.
  4. Broad Interpretation: According to the spirit and purpose and customary rules and the expediencies intended by the legislator, the law would be construed broadly.

It is noteworthy that while the main rules of interpretation are defined as above, the choice of the rule by the court would be affected depending on the civil or criminal substance of the case under examination. For clarity, if a criminal matter is at hand to decide, the rule of broad interpretation shall not be applied due to the fact that application of such rule in the criminal context would be in contradiction with one of the essential principles of criminal law which is the principle of “Legalization of Crime and Punishment”. Therefore, in such context, the court should opt for an interpretation method which is more consistent with the other core rules of interpretation in the criminal content namely “Interpretation to the Benefit of the Accused Person”.

Submitted by: Dr. Mahnaz Mehrinfar and Mrs. Golsa Daghighi