Ejusdem generis, a Latin phrase, means "of the same kind or nature." When a law enumerates specific categories of individuals or items and then makes a general reference to them, the general statement only applies to similar individuals or items specifically listed. For example, in the expression "books, pamphlets, newspapers, and other documents," private letters might not be included if "other documents" is interpreted ejusdem generis with the preceding terms. However, in a provision that states "newspapers or other documents likely to convey secrets to the enemy," the phrase "other documents" would encompass documents of any kind and would not be limited by the term "newspapers."
The general statement should be interpreted to include things of the same kind as those specified in the preceding specific terms, unless it is evident from the language of the statute that the general words were not intended to be limited in that way and allowing their natural meaning would not result in absurd or unforeseen complications. The fundamental rule of interpretation is to give the general words their broad and natural meaning, unless the statute indicates otherwise or such interpretation would lead to unreasonable outcomes. In such cases, the rule of ejusdem generis can be applied to restrict their meaning and align them with the specific items listed earlier.
According to Black's Law Dictionary, ejusdem generis is a principle of statutory construction stating that when general words follow the enumeration of specific classes, those general words should be interpreted as applying only to things of the same general kind or class as the ones specifically mentioned.
The rule of ejusdem generis means that general words following specific ones should be understood to refer to similar things, not the other way around. This rule aims to reconcile the conflict between specific and general words while considering other principles of interpretation, such as giving effect to all words in a statute, interpreting the statute as a whole, and avoiding unnecessary words. In this way, the specific words are influenced by the general words that follow. The doctrine of ejusdem generis is applicable when the following conditions are met:
- the statute includes a list of specific words,
- the items listed belong to a particular class or category,
- the class or category is not fully represented by the items listed,
- a general term follows the specific list, and
- there are no indications of a different legislative intention.
The ejusdem generis rule is applied when a general word follows specific words of a less general nature or of the same kind. In such cases, the general word is understood to include only things of the same kind as the preceding specific words. This rule assumes that the general word is limited to the same category as the particular and specific words.
- In the case LIC v. Retired LIC Officers Assn., the court applied the principle of ejusdem generis and concluded that the phrase "other matter connected and incidental thereto" only covers aspects directly related to the preceding expressions mentioned in the regulation.
- In Lokmat Newspapers (P) Ltd. v. Shankar prasad, the court determined that the word "discharge" is a general term, while "dismissal" refers to a specific category of cases involving penalties imposed by the employer. In this case, the ejusdem generis rule did not apply since "discharge" and "dismissal" are not part of the same category or genus.
The ejusdem generis rule aims to reconcile the conflict between specific and general words. However, for the rule to apply, it is necessary that the enumerated items preceding the general words form a category or genus. If there is no mention of a genus or if the collection of items is heterogeneous, the rule cannot be applied.
- In Housing Board of Haryana v. Employees Union, the court stated that while interpreting the definitions of "local authority" in different acts, the ejusdem generis rule was invoked. However, the court emphasized that the rule cannot be applied to Article 12 since the definition of "State" in that article includes various heterogeneous bodies without a common genus.
WHERE NOT APPLICABLE
The principle of ejusdem generis states that general words following specific and particular words should be interpreted as limited to things of the same nature as those specified. However, for the rule to apply, the specific words must pertain to a class or kind of objects rather than vastly different ones. The rule should be applied cautiously and not excessively. Its scope should be limited to avoid unnecessarily restricting broad and comprehensive words. If a broad category can be identified, there is no need to diminish the general words. The principle of ejusdem generis should only restrict the meaning of general words when the overall context and purpose of the legislation necessitate it. If the context and intent of the law do not require such a restricted interpretation, it is the duty of the courts to give the general words their plain and ordinary meaning.
In conclusion, the maxim of ejusdem generis plays a crucial role in statutory interpretation, especially when reconciling the conflict between specific and general words. By construing general words following specific ones as limited to things of the same nature, this principle brings clarity and coherence to legal provisions. However, it is essential to apply the rule with caution, avoiding excessive restrictions on broad and comprehensive language. The context and purpose of the legislation must guide the interpretation, ensuring that the plain and ordinary meaning of general words is upheld, unless the overall scheme of the law requires a more restricted understanding. As legal scholars and practitioners navigate the complexities of statutory interpretation, a judicious application of the ejusdem generis rule can contribute to a more precise and equitable understanding of the law