Sometimes the real meaning of the document is not clear without the aid of some extraneous facts to the deed. Therefore, chapter VI of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, from sections 93 to 98, lays down the rules for interpreting such documents. Basically, it deals with the concept of an ambiguous document and its interpretation.
Extraneous means of external origin; separate from the object to which it is attached; irrelevant or unrelated to the subject being dealt with.
Ambiguity refers to something doubtful, uncertain, or something having multiple meanings. In law, the ambiguity of any document is divided into two kinds:
- Patent Ambiguity (Sections 93 and 94 of the Evidence Act)
- Latent Ambiguity (Sections 95 to 98 of the Evidence Act)
Important: Why This Division?
As a general rule, no evidence can be given in patent ambiguity, but the court’s discretion lies. While in latent ambiguity, such evidence can be given.
The reason for this division can be understood with the help of the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act (IEA). Let’s take a look.
What Is Patent Ambiguity?
Patent ambiguity refers to the ambiguity or an uncertain meaning on the face of the document/agreement/contract. In such ambiguity, the testator’s intention on the face remains unclear. It is also known as intrinsic ambiguity.
Patent ambiguity is based on the Latin maxim Prima Facie, which means something that appears on the face of the record. That means the meaning of the agreement on the face is unclear or not understandable.
Section 93 IEA – Exclusion of Evidence to Explain or Amend Ambiguous Document
Section 93 of the Indian Evidence Act says that evidence cannot be given to explain or amend (change) an ambiguous document when the document’s language on the face appears to be ambiguous or defective to show its meaning or to rectify its defects.
Example: Rohan agrees, in writing, to sell a Goldfish to Priya for rupees 2000 or 3000. Here, the evidence cannot be given to show which price was to be given because the document on the face is ambiguous.
Section 94 IEA – Exclusion of Evidence Against Application of Document to Existing Facts
Section 94 of the Indian Evidence Act says that evidence may not be given to show that the language of such a document is not meant to apply to a particular fact. For this, two essentials must be fulfilled:
- The language of the document on the face of it is plain.
- That such language accurately applies to the existing facts.
Example: X, by deed, sells “my plot at Gwalior containing 300 bighas” to Y. Now the existing fact is that X has a plot at Gwalior containing 300 bighas. Evidence may not be given of the fact that the plot meant to be sold was one situated at a different place and of another size.
Case Laws Related to Patent Ambiguity
Keshavlal Lallubhai Patel vs Lalbhai Trikumlal Mills Ltd (1958): The Supreme Court of India held that it wouldn’t be open for the parties or the court to remove the vagueness or uncertainty by relying upon extraneous evidence.
The General Court Martial & Ors vs Col. Aniltej Singh Dhaliwal (1997): The Supreme Court held that section 94 of the Evidence Act shall apply only when the document’s execution is admitted, and there are no vitiating circumstances against it.
What Is Latent Ambiguity?
Latent ambiguity refers to the ambiguity that, on the face, appears to be certain and meaningful, but on execution, it does not make any relevance to the existing facts or the present circumstances. Or simply, it is not apparent on the face of the record.
Section 95 IEA – Evidence as to Document Unmeaning in Reference to Existing Facts
Section 95 of the Indian Evidence Act says that evidence may be given to show that the language of the document is to be used in a particular sense. This can only be done when the language of such document on the face of it is plain, but it does not match with reference to the existing facts.
Example: X sells to Y, by deed, “my house in Navi Mumbai”. The existing fact is that X has no house in Navi Mumbai, but it appears that he had a house at Bandra, of which Y had been in possession since the execution of the deed. All these facts may be proved to show that the deed was related to the house at Bandra.
Section 96 IEA – Evidence as to Application of Language Which Can Apply to One Only of Several Persons
As per section 96 of the Indian Evidence Act, whenever the language of a document is used in such a manner that:
- (a) the facts are meant to apply to a particular thing, and
- (b) are not meant to apply to more than a particular thing;
in such a case, evidence may be given to show that a particular mentioned fact relating to:
- (a) persons or
- (b) things
is intended to be applied in a particular fact.
Example: Khushi agrees to sell to Chitra for rupees 2000 “my white horse”. Khushi has two white horses. Here, the evidence may be given to show which horse was meant to be sold.
Section 97 IEA – Evidence as to Application of Language to One of Two Sets of Facts, to Neither of Which the Whole Correctly Applies
This section says that evidence may be given when the language of the document is such that:
- (a) it partly applies to one set of the existing facts, and
- (b) partly to another set of the existing facts.
But in neither case, it correctly applies as a whole to the document. Thus, evidence may be given to show the meaning of its exact application.
Example: Rohan agrees to sell to Priya “my land at Jalandhar in possession of Siddharth”. Rohan has a piece of land at Jalandhar but not in possession of Siddharth, and he has a piece of land in possession of Siddharth, but it is not at Jalandhar. As the facts of the deed:
- partly applied to one set of existing facts (i.e. Rohan has the piece of land at Jalandhar but not in possession of Siddharth), and
- partly to another set of existing facts (that the piece of land is in possession of Siddharth but is not in Jalandhar)
But neither applies as a whole correctly. Here, evidence may be given of facts showing which land he meant to sell.
Section 98 IEA – Evidence as to Meaning of Illegible Characters, etc.
Sometimes the meaning of the local language of a particular area is completely unfamiliar with that of the other area. So, section 98 of the Indian Evidence Act provides that evidence may be given to make understand the meaning of a particular word in a particular sense. It includes illegible or not commonly intelligible characters of foreign, obsolete, technical, local and provincial expressions of abbreviations and of words, etc.
Example: Let’s say, in Bhopal, oranges mean banana, and in Kerala, oranges mean oranges. A (resident of Bhopal) agrees to sell to B (resident of Kerala) 5 kg of oranges. Now A delivers 5 kg of Banana to B. Evidence may be given to show the exact meaning of the deed.
Case Law Related to Latent Ambiguity
Mangala Waman Karandikar (D) TR LRS Vs Prakash Damodar Ranade (2010): In this case, the Indian Supreme Court held that sections 92 and 95 of the Evidence Act would not be applied if the document was clear-cut and unambiguous. When the provisions of the contract are evident and simple, there is no necessity for looking into extraneous pieces of evidence.
Difference Between Patent Ambiguity and Latent Ambiguity
Patent ambiguity: Sections 93 and 94 of the Evidence Act.
Latent ambiguity: Sections 95 to 98 of the Evidence Act.
Patent ambiguity: It is uncertain and unmeaning on the face.
Latent ambiguity: It is certain and meaningful on the face.
Patent ambiguity: No oral evidence may be given. (Court’s discretion lies only in exceptional cases.)
Latent ambiguity: Oral evidence can be given to remove its ambiguity.
Patent ambiguity: Patent ambiguity makes the document useless from the very beginning.
Latent ambiguity: As oral evidence is allowed, it does not make the document useless.
Patent ambiguity: It is personal in nature, related to the person executing it.
Latent ambiguity: It is objective in nature, related to the present circumstances.