The principle of harmonious construction assumes importance particularly where two statutes or two provisions of a statute covering the same field are in conflict with each other. The question then is, ‘which of the two should prevail or would it be possible to give effect to both’. The said principle is explained by two maxims, i.e., leges posteriores priores contrarias abrogant, which means ‘later laws abrogate earlier laws which are contrary thereto’. This is a general maxim, which is subject to an exception as embodied in another maxim generalia specialibus non derogant, meaning, ‘a general provision does not derogate from a special one’.
Jowitt’s Dictionary of English Law explains the application of the maxim generalia specialibus non derogant thus: ‘A special enactment is not affected by a subsequent general enactment unless the earlier enactment is inconsistent with the later enactment or unless there is some express reference in the later enactment to the earlier one in either of which cases the maxim leges posteriores priores contrarias abrogant applies’
The cardinal rule of harmonious construction is that there should be harmonious construction.It is meant in the sense that when there are in a statute two provisions which are in conflict with each other such that both of them cannot stand, they should, if possible be so interpreted that effect can be given to both, and that a construction which renders either of them inoperative and useless should not be adopted except in the last resort. One application of this rule is that when there is a law generally dealing with a subject and another law dealing particularly with one of the topics comprised therein, the general law is to be construed as yielding to the special in respect of the matters comprised therein.
The primary purpose of this type of construction is for ensuring that the interpretation does not lead to any absurdity. All the Sections of the Act, as a whole, should be given a harmonious construction and cannot be dissected by adding a new meaning or given a new interpretation.
Dharma Paripalana Sabha v. Commissioner, (2010)2 MLJ 272
Earl Jowitt, The Dictionary of English Law.
The Registrar, Karnataka Veterinary v. Dr. Mahendran, 2010 S.C.C. OnLine Kar 5338