Legal Fiction

XX
Young Lon

Lon Luvois Fuller defined the classic legal fiction as “either (1) a statement propounded with a complete or partial consciousness of its falsity, or (2) a false statement recognized as having utility.” The common law was rife with fictions: a plaintiff who had bailed his chattel under a bailment terminable at his will was deemed to have possession of the chattel and thus could bring an action in trespass; British Courts deemed certain contracts for which the promises were exchanged at sea to have been made at the Royal Exchange in London in order to divest the Admiralty Courts of jurisdiction.

A legal fiction becomes dangerous, Fuller argued, only if believed. If a legal fiction is a false statement not intended to deceive, then its utility must wane – and its danger correspondingly wax – as recognition that it is in fact false diminishes.

As is well known, a legal fiction is not to be extended beyond the purpose for which it is created or beyond the language of the section by which it is created.

In Prakash H. Jain v. Marie Fernandes, (2003) 8 SCC 431 it was held:

“When a statute enacts that anything shall be deemed to be some other thing the only meaning possible is that whereas that the said thing is not in reality that something, the legislative enactment requires it to be treated as if it is so. Similarly, though full effect must be given to the legal fiction, it should not be extended beyond the purpose for which the fiction has been created and all the more, when the deeming clause itself confines, as in the present case, the creation of fiction for only a limited purpose as indicated therein.”

However, once the purpose of the legal fiction is ascertained, full effect must be given, and it should be carried to its logical conclusion. This is clear from the celebrated passage in East End Dwelling Co. Ltd. v. Finsbury Borough Council, 1951 (2) All ER 587 at 589:

“If you are bidden to treat an imaginary state of affairs as real, you must surely, unless prohibited from doing so, also imagine as real the consequences and incidents which, if the putative state of affairs had in fact existed, must inevitably have flowed from or accompanied it.”

Also see, Kumaran v. State of Kerala, [Criminal Appeal Nos. 896-897 of 2017] decided on 05.05.2017.

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