Ejusdem generis

Mahima Gherani

This commonly used Latin maxim means “of the same kind, class or nature”. Known as a “canon of construction”, it states that while interpretation or construction of a statute the first thing which is done by the court is to assign literal meaning to the statute in question, but in case, there exists any vagueness, then the court goes a step ahead in its interpretation, and try knowing the intent of the legislature in constructing such a statute, which can be inferred and determined from the application of statutory rules out of which one of them is Ejusdem Generis. It is an ancient doctrine, commonly called Lord Tenterden’s Rule. The general expression takes its meaning from the preceding particular expressions. The basis of the principle of Ejusdem Generis is that if the legislature intended general words to be used in unrestricted sense, it would not have bothered to use particular words at all.

This rule of law must be applied cautiously because it implies a departure from the natural meaning of words in order to give them a meaning on a supposed intension of the legislature. The rule must be controlled by the fundamental rule that statutes must be construed so as to carry out the object sought to be accomplished. This term can be further explained by its usage in various case laws and the decisions of the judges.

The Supreme Court in Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board v. Harishanker, has laid down the following five essential elements of this rule:

  • The statute contains an enumeration of specific words
  • The subjects of enumeration constitute a class or category
  • The class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration
  • The general terms follow the enumeration
  • There is no indication of a different legislative intent.

If the legislative purpose of a statute is such that a statutory series should be read Ejusdem Generis, so it be, and the rule is helpful.

In State of Bombay v. Ali Gulshan , Section 6(4)(a) of the  Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948 was in question wherein the High Court held that the words “any other words” used in the Section should be read Ejusdem Generis with the purpose of the State that accommodation for a member of the foreign consulate staff is a purpose of the Union. This rule was also applied in University of Madras v. Shanta Bai, where in the Madras High Court evolved the principal of Ejusdem Generis i.e of like nature. It means that those authorities are covered under the expression ‘other authorities’ which perform governmental or sovereign functions.

In another landmark case Porwell v. Kempten Park the question was in reference to the Betting Act 1853. The Betting Act 1853 made it an offence to keep a house, office, room or other place for the purposes of betting. The House of Lords had to decide if the statute applied to Tattersall’s enclosure at Kempton Park Racecourse. The court applied the ejusdem generis rule and held that the other items mentioned in the statute related to places indoors whereas Tattersall’s enclosure was outside. There was thus no offence committed. In another old English case of Evans v. Cross, the words ‘other devices’ had to be interpreted in Section 48(9) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930 which defined a ‘traffic sign’ to include ‘all signals, warning sign posts, direction posts, signs or other devices.’ Applying the rule of Ejusdem Generis the Court held that a painted white line on a road could not be called a traffic sign because devices are things and not those that are painted.

This is a rule of language employed by the courts when a situation arises that may not have been foreseen when the statute was being drafted. It will bring within the meaning of the statute things that are of the same class or genus as those mentioned within the statute itself. Thus, if specific items are listed, plus a general term (for example, houses, offices, rooms or other places), the general term of other places will include things only of the same class as the specific list, in this case indoor places.

The doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is only part of a wider principle of construction, namely, that, where reasonably possible, some significance and meaning should be attributed to each and every word and phrase in a written document. That being the object of the doctrine, it is difficult to see what difference it can make whether the word ‘other’ is or is not used, provided-and this is essential-that the examples which have been given are referable to a clearly ascertainable genus.

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