Nosciture a Sociis Rule

Nosciture a Sociis Rule, By the application of this rule, where two or more words which are susceptible of analogous meaning are coupled together, they are understood to be used in their cognate sense and they take their colour from each other, the meaning of the more general being restricted to a sense analogous to that of the less general.

See also:- Mischief Rule; Golden Rule; Literal Rule; Statutory Interpretation; Maxims of Equity; Equity; Common Law; Received English Law; Doctrine of Covering the field; Sources of Nigeria Law.

The United States Supreme Court in Virginia V. tennesee 148 US 503 (1893) noted that the noscitur a socii rule of construction is a rule of construction whereby the obscurity or doubt of any particular word may be removed by reference to associated words and that the meaning of a term may be enlarged or restricted by referring to the object of the whole clause in which it is used. Noscitur a sociis rule is indeed a literary application of the human rule which says: “tell me with whom you go and I tell you what you are”.

A clear statement of the Noscitur a sociis rule is given by Stamp J. in the case of Bourne V. Norwich Creamatorim Ltd (1967) 2 All ER 576 at 578; See also Nnaemeka-Agu Jsc in Garba V. Federal Civil Service Commission & Anor (1988) SCNJ (pt 2) 270, In the case of Bourne he said:

“…English words derive colour from those which surround them. Sentences are not mere collections of words to be taken out of the sentence, defined separately by reference to the dictionary or decided cases, and then put back, into the sentence with the meaning which you have assigned to them as separated words.

Ut Res Magis Valeat Quan Pereat – Nosciture a Sociis Rule

This is another canon of interpretation which means that the construction should ensure that the intention of the legislature is not frustrated or defeated. It is the duty of the court to give meaning to an ambiguous expression.

In Curtis V. Stovin (1989) 22 Q.B.D. 513, See also State V. Governor, Osun State (2007) All FWLR (pt. 366) 736 C.A. In Curtis V. Stovin, Bowen L.J. stated the rule as follows:

The rules for the construction of statutes are very much like those which apply to the construction of other documents especially as regards one crucial rule-viz that if possible, the words of the Act of parliament must be construed so as to give a sensible meaning to them. The words ought to be construed ut res magis valeat quam pereat.

Fry L.J in the same case held as follows:
…the only alternative construction offered to us would lead to this result – that the plain intention of the legislature has entirely failed by reason of slight inexactitude in the language of the section. If we were to adopt this construction, we should be constructing the Act in order to defeat its object rather with a view to carry it’s object into effect.

In Hill V. East and West Dock Co. (1884) A.C. 448 at 456, the court held that where there is an expression used in enactment which may be susceptible to two interpretations, the court may consider the consequences of either interpretation in arriving at the intention of the legislation. That interpretation which appears to defeat the intention of the Act should be by-passed in favour of that which would further the object of the Act.
In Rein V. Lane (1867) 2 L.R Q.B. 144 at 151, Lord Bowen L.J. stated the rule as follows:

It is I apprehend, in accordance with the general rule of construction that you are not only to look at the words, but you are to look at the context, the connotation and the object of such words relating to such matter and interpret the meaning according to what would appear to be the meaning intended to be conveyed by the case of the words under the circumstances.

The Nigerian courts have applied this rule of interpretation in relevant cases. The Supreme Court case of Idehen V. Idehen (1991) 6 NWLR (pt.198) 382 at 432, whilst applying this rule with all its force cited with approval the case of Savannah Bank (Nig.) Ltd V. Ajilo. In the Savannah Bank case, Obaseki JSC held that a statute should not be given a construction that will defeat its purpose. Obaseki JSC in that case further held as follows:

…Where alternate constructions are equally open that alternative is to be chosen which would be consistent with the smooth working of the system which the statute purports to be regulating and that alternative is to be rejected which will introduce uncertainty, friction or confusion into the working of the systemShannon Realities Ltd V. Villede St Michel (1924) A.C. 185.

In Osadebay V. A.G. Bendel State (1991) 1 NWLR (pt169) 525, Nnaemeka-Agu JSC held as follows:

It is, of course, a legitimate principle of interpretation of statutes that if the choice is between two interpretations, one of which will achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, the court should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility and accept the bolder construction based on the view that the legislator would legislate only for the purpose of bringing about an effective result. Nokes V. Doncaste Amalgamated Collieries Lyd (1940) A.C. 1014 at p.1022, also Shannon Realities Ltd V. Ville de St Michel (1924) A.C. 185 at pg. 192 and 193.

This principle of interpretation is often expressed by the Latin Maxim: “ut res magis valeat quam pereat” Nosciture a Sociis Rule . Nosciture a Sociis Rule .

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