LEX PROSPICIT NOT RESPICIT By- Sushma Gowda

Literal meaning:-The law looks forward, and backward.

Origin:- The various rules guiding how a legislation has to be interpreted, one established rule is that unless a contrary intention appears, legislation is presumed not to be intended to have a retrospective operation. The idea behind the rule is that a current law should govern current activities. Law passed today cannot apply to the events of the past. If we do something today, we do it keeping in view the law of today and in force and not tomorrow’s backward adjustment of it. Our belief in the nature of the law is founded on the bedrock that every human being is entitled to arrange his affairs by relying on the existing law and should not find that his plans have been retrospectively upset. This principle of law is known as lex prospicit non respicit ( law looks forward not backward)

Explanation:- The various rules guiding how a legislation has to be interpreted, one established rule is that unless a contrary intention appears, a legislation is presumed not to be intended to have a retrospective operation. The idea behind the rule is that a current law should govern current activities. Law passed today cannot apply to the events of the past. If we do something today, we do it keeping in view the law of today and in force and not tomorrow’s backward adjustment of it. Our belief in the nature of the law is founded on the bedrock that every human being is entitled to arrange his affairs by relying on the existing law and should not find that his plans have been retrospectively upset.  This principle of law is known as lex prospicit non respicit: law looks forward not backward

Illustration:- As was observed in Phillips vs. Eyre [(1870) LR 6 QB 1 ], a retrospective legislation is contrary to the general principle that legislation by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated when introduced for the first time to deal with future acts ought not to change the character of past transactions carried on upon the faith of the then-existing law.

Case Reference:-

Most recently in Commissioner of Income-tax (Central)-1, New Delhi v. Vatika Township Private Limited, the Constitution Bench, while quoting Govind Das v. Income Tax Officer and CIT Bombay Scindia Steam Navigation Company Ltd. held as follows:

Of the various rules guiding how a legislation has to be interpreted, one established rule is that unless a contrary intention appears, a legislation is presumed not to be
intended to have a retrospective operation. The idea behind the rule is that a current law should govern current activities. Law passed today cannot apply to the events of the past. If we do something today, we do it keeping in view the law of today and in force and not tomorrow’s backward adjustment of it. Our belief in the nature of the law is founded on the bedrock that every human being is entitled to arrange his affairs by relying on the existing law and should not find that his plans have been retrospectively upset. This principle of law is known as lex prospicit non respicit : law looks forward not backward. As was observed in Phillips vs. Eyre (1870) LR 6 QB 1, a retrospective legislation is contrary to the general principle that legislation by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated when introduced for the first time to deal with future acts ought not to change the character of past transactions carried on
upon the faith of the then-existing law.

The true principle is that lex prospicit non respicit (law looks forward not back). Retrospective legislation is ‘contrary to the general principle that legislation by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated ought, when introduced for the first time, to deal with future acts, and ought not to change the character of past transactions carried on upon the faith of the then-existing law’. (Phillips v. Eyre (1870) LR 6 QB) The basis of the principle against retrospective ‘is no more than simple fairness, which ought to be the basis of every legal rule’. (L’OfficeCherifien des Phosphates v. Yamashita- Shinnihon Steamship Co Ltd. [1994] 1 AC 486, per Lord Mustill at 525) Example 97.1 It was held that the principle of fairness would be infringed if it were found that the Social Security Act 1986 s 53 (repealed) was retrospective since in some circumstances it would render third parties liable to make reimbursement in respect of past payments when they were not so liable under the previous law. It would also remove a defence previously available. (Plewa v. Chief Adjudication Officer [1995] 1 AC 249) The retrospective is artificial, deeming a thing to be what it was not. Artificiality and make-believe are generally repugnant to the law as the servant of human welfare. So it follows that the courts apply the general presumption that an enactment is not intended to have retrospective effect. As always, the power of Parliament to produce such an effect where it wishes to do so is nevertheless undoubted.

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