Interpretation of documents is the duty of the court. The concern of the court is to decipher the meaning of the words as used by the parties. It is the court’s job to find out the true meaning of a document to give effect to the true intention of the maker of the document if the document is not self explanatory but that is rarely the case and this is why the court needs to interpret the document.
The Evidence Act has rules on how you interpret a document and they are as follows:
1. Documents which are unambiguous and plain should be given that plain meaning. The presumption is that the words are used in their ordinary sense and the parties meant what they have written. Where the language applies accurately to existing facts, it is to be applied plainly. This is provided for in Section 100.
2. When the language used in a document is on its face ambiguous or defective, evidence may not be given of facts which show its meaning or supply its defects. Such a document may be unintelligible in its face and the wording may not be capable of being comprehensible. The ambiguity in the document on its face is said to be patent. Section 99.
3. When the language used in a document is plain but meaningless in reference to existing facts, evidence may be given to show that it was used in a peculiar sense. Section 101. the ambiguity in this case is said to be latent and latent evidence can be cured by bringing in oral evidence to show that the words were used in a peculiar sense.
4. When the facts are such that the language used in a document might have been used to apply to any one but could not have been meant to apply to more than one of several persons or things where evidence may be given of facts which show to which of those persons or things it was intended to apply. For instance a person might agree to sell a European Car and it is clear that the seller has 3 European cars which are volkswagon, Volvo and a Peugeot and it is clear that they meant to sell one but the words apply to all three but it is clear from the amount of money agreed on, you may bring in oral evidence to show to which car the agreement applied. Section 102
5. When the language used in a document applies partly to one set of existing facts and partly to another but the whole of the documents does not apply correctly to either, evidence may be given to show which of the two it was meant to apply. For instance a person agrees to sell a plot in Westlands on which there is a 3 bedroom house. In fact the person has 2 plots one in Westlands and another in Parklands and it is clear that the one with a 3 bedroomed house is the one in Parklands and the one in Westlands is actually an undeveloped plot. The court will allow extrinsic evidence to be brought to establish which plot as the evidence applies partly to both but it is not clear which one. Section 103.
6. Section 104 allows for extrinsic evidence to be given to show the meaning of illegible or not commonly intelligible characters of foreign, obsolete, technical, local and provincial expressions. For instance if in the past the government had used the word ‘unbwogable’ later extrinsic evidence may be allowed to explain on what context the words were used. Section 104