Lucian ds Silva v. Sing am
1968Present: Weeramantry, J.;* A. D. LUCIAN DE SILVA, Appellant, and A. T. S. K. SINGAM,
S.C. 161/67—C. R. Colombo, 87764/R.E.
National Housing Act (Cap. 401)—Section 37—Suit by “ occupier" against hie" libant—Procedure—Interpretation of statutes—Construction of general words* – in accordance with context.’
The special procedure prescribed by section 37 of the National Housing Actis hot applicable to an action instituted by an “ occupier ” to eject frompremises provided to him by the Commissioner of National Housing a personwho is his (the occupier’s) tenant.
Statutory provisions must be construed according to the context inwhich they appear.
WEKRAMAiffRY, J.—Lucian de Silva v. Singam"309
ApPEAIj from a judgment of the Court of Requests, Colombo.
Walter Jayawardena, Q.G., with Nimal Senanayake and BalaNadarajah, for the Defendant-Appellant.
8. Sharvananda, with M. Wanniappa, for the Plaintiff-Respondent.
Cur. adv. milt.
November 21, 1968. Weeramantry, J.—
This appeal is from an order in favour of the plaintiff in an actionfar rent and ejectment.
It would appear that the premises in question which were let by theplaintiff to the defendant upon the document P2, had been provided.to the plaintiff by the Commissioner of National Housing npon thedooument PI.
This latter document states inter alia that the plaintiff is a memberof a building society and as such has made a deposit with the Commissionertowards the cost of a land allotted to him. It states further that he hasbeen placed in occupation of the house constructed for him and that thecost of this house has been advanced by the Commissioner of NationalHousing to the building society. It contains also a prohibition againstthe letting or sub-letting of the house or any part thereof except with thewritten permission of the Commissioner of National Housing.
Several issues were raised at the trial but the only question on whichI have been addressed in appeal on behalf of the appellant is the question■ whether the plaintiff can maintain this action in view of the provisionsof section 37 of the National Housing Act, Cap. 401. This sectionprovides that no action for the recovery or the possession of any house towhich Part V of the Actapplies or for the ejectment of the occupier fromthe land or premises in which the house is situated shall be takenexceptunder the provisions of that Part.
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It is submitted for the appellant that this section debars the plaintiff
from suing defendant in ejectment. In making this submissionthe appellant relies, on the generality of the terms in which section 37is framed. The section does not state that the action prohibited is anaction by the Commissioner (designated as the “ landlord ” for the purposeof Part V) or that recovery must he sought from the person placed inoccupation (designated as the “ occupier ” in this Part). It is thereforesubmitted that the prohibition in this section is not limited to actionsby the Commissioner to recover possession of a house from the occupierbut that it covers all actions for the recovery of the house by or dgsiostwhomsoever such action may be instituted. By this argument, evenactions such as the present, by the occupier against hia lessee, are chut
WEERAMANTRY, J.—Lucian de Silva v. Singam
out. In support of this contention it is said that the section is perfectlyclear as it stands, and that in the absence of any resulting absurdity itwould not be justifiable to place any gloss upon the words in the seotionand thereby whittle down their generality.
The appellant draws attention to the judgment of My Lord the ChiefJustice in Silva v. The Commissioner for National Housing 1 whereit was pointed out that Part V of the Act as originally enacted did notauthorise the ubo of the special procedure therein provided against a personwho is not an “ occupier ” in the strict sense of the term in section 31 ofthe Act, or a dependant of such an occupier. In that case the procedure soprovided was held to be unavailable to the Commissioner in a case wherethe original occupier holding under the Commissioner sublets thepremises or permits some other person not being a dependant to occupythe same. This decision is relied on as showing that the normal meaningwas attached to the word “occupier” despite an obvious lacuna in theOrdinance (a lacuna which was removed by section 5 of Act No. 36 of1966) and the very unsatisfactory result that followed therefrom, namely,that no procedure was available against the sub-tenant. On this basis itis said that despite the obviously unsatisfactory result that would followfrom giving their plain meaning to the words in section 37, andthe resulting , lacuna as regards an occupier’s claim against his sub-tenant, the court should not shrink from applying the normal rule ofinterpretation.
It is said further for the appellant that the entire scheme of Part V isaimed at reserving to the Commissioner or the relevant housing body atotal and exclusive control in the matter of ejectment of persons physi-cally upon the premises and that even where there is a letting to a thirdparty by an occupier, the policy of the Act requires that any action torecover the premises should be launched by the Commissioner or housingbody alone. This may be done it is said by obtaining a rule against theoccupier and such person, for, according to the amendment effected bysection 5 of Act No. 36 of 1966, such a rule would be effective to obtainrecovery against all persons occupying the land. Any hardship resultingin cases such as the present where the sub-letting is'with the consent ofthe Commissioner may, it is submitted, be met by granting the premisesafresh to the innocent occupier against whom a rule has had in this wayto be obtained.
One other contention of the appellant to which I should make referenceis that section 37 is made up of two limbs, the first of which deals withthe recovery of possession of the house and the second of which dealswith the ejectment of the occupier from the land or premises in whichthe house is situated. The restriction to the case of an “ occupier ”appears only in the second limb and this deals with land or premises andnot the house, the possession of which is sought to be recovered, so thatin regard to recovery of possession of the house there is no restriction ofthe prohibition to cases where recovery is sought from an occupier.
» (1968) 70 N. L. R. 673.
WEERAMANTRY, J.—Lucian de Silva v. Singam311
It seems to me that these various submissions do not give adequateweight to the context in which this section is found.
Section 37 appears in the context of a Part of the Ordinance dealingwith recovery of possession by the Commissioner and other housingauthorities, and creates a special procedure by which quick relief may beobtained by them. Section 37 must not be read in isolation from the Partin which.it appears. While no doubt such a construction would be appro-priate and indeed necessary in certain contexts, as where words appearin a general portion of the Act, such a construction would be inappro-priate in the peculiar context of their appearance in a group of sectionsmaking available to the Commissioner and certain housing authorities aspecial procedure for recovery. Indeed this Part is intituled *' Recoveryof possession of houses, by the Commissioner, Building Companies,Building Societies and Housing Bodies ” and would not appear to contem-plate recovery by any party other than the Commissioner or the housingauthorities therein specified. When therefore by section 37~the legisla-ture prevented action being brought otherwise than in the manner statedin Part V it was merely displacing the usual procedure available to suchpersons and could not have contemplated that actions by persons otherthan the specified agencies were thereby shut out. It seems most unlikelythat in a Part dealing exclusively with the “ landlord occupier ”relationship any prohibition would be contained in respect of an aotionso foreign to the scope of that Part, as an action by an “occupier”against his sub-tenant.
Any other interpretation of section 37 would involve moreover thetaking away of common law rights, for an occupier would ordinarily beentitled at common law to an action for the recovery of the house froma person to whom he had sublet it. Any interpretation of the sectionwhich produces the result that the occupier is deprived of this commonlaw right should not therefore be favoured unless there is expresslanguage or clear implication to this effect.1
To give to section 37 such an unrestricted meaning as to cover allactions whether by the “ landlord ” or not and whether against the“ occupier ” or not would be to go much further afield in the prohibitionof actions than the context of the section warrants, and it seems anecessary inference in all the circumstances that the section relatesonly to the class of action contemplated by Part V.
In giving this contextual interpretation to section 37 no departure isinvolved from the ordinary canons of interpretation of statutes for itis a well recognised rule that statutory provisions must be consideredaccording to the context in which they appear. In particular where sweep-ing general words are used it becomes necessary to examine their contextin order to see whether they are not necessarily limited to a particularrestricted meaning harmonising with that context. As Maxwell observes,1a survey of the context in which words appear “ is often indispensable,
1 Maxwell, Interpretation of Statutes, 11th ed. p. 276.
1 Interpretation of Statutes, JJth ed. p. 28.
WEERAMANTRY, J.—Lucian da Silva v. Singam
even when the words are the plainest, for the true meaning of any passageis that which (being permissible) best harmonises with the subject andwith every other passage of the statute In the words of du Parcq, L.J.in Butcher v. Poole Corporation 1 “ it is of course impossible to construeparticular words in an Act of Parliament without reference to their contextand to the, whole tenor of the Act In that case, as in the present,it was sought by the unsuccessful party to construe certain statutoryprovisions framed in general terms by giving to the words used theirnormal and natural meaning. It was argued that the words “ any remedyby way of re-entry upon any land ” were wide enough to include re-entryupon land of which a trespasser had taken possession. Du Parcq, L.J.,whilst stating that such a wide construction could be given to thesewords if one gave one’s attention only to them, said that if (me lookedat the whole Act, it was manifest that when the legislature spoke of aperson to whom the remedy of re-entry upon land was available, it meantin that context that pe rson who had the right of re-entry by reason of theantecedent failure of the occupier of the land to fulfil some obligation.This principle of construing words according to their context seems toprovide the answer to the question which this case involves and I wouldprefer to rest this judgment on this rule rather than on the alternativesubmission of [the respondents that the wide construction contendedfor by the appellant would result in absurdity. The absurdity pointedout by the respondents is that no remedy would be available to an occupierto sue his lessee. Such a lacuna in the law, as w'as the lacuna referredto by My Lord the Chief Justice in Silva v. Commissioner for NationalBousing a, wodtd no doubt result in inconvenience and hardship but thisby itself would, be no sufficient reason for giving to the words in questionthe narrower meaning contended for by the respondents.
It seems clear that this narrower meaning -must be given to section 37for the contextual reason to which I have referred, and on this basis Itake the view that the occupier, namely the plaintiff in this case, is notdebarred by section 37 from the. remedy which would ordinarily beavailable to him at eommom law, of seeking to eject the lessee whom hehas placed in occupation.
The appeal accordingly fails and is dismissed with costs.
Appeal dismissed.a (1968) 70 N. L. B. 573.
1 11942) 2 All E. R. 572 at 579.
A. D. LUCIAN DE SILVA, Appellant, and A. T. S. K. SINGAM, Respondent