Ambiguities in documents
“Ambiguity means an uncertainty of meaning in which several interpretations are possible.”
“Ambiguity means something that does not have a single clear meaning” – Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Generally, there are two types of ‘ambiguity,’ viz.
- Patent ambiguity;
- Latent ambiguity;
Patent ambiguity is defined in Secs.93 and 94 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Sec.93: Exclusion of evidence to explain or amend ambiguous document:
“When the language used in a document is, on its face, ambiguous or defective, evidence may not be give of facts which would show its meaning or supply its defects.”
Illustration: A agrees, in writing, to sell a horse to B for Rs.1,000 or Rs.1500. Evidence cannot be given to show which price was to be given.
Sec.94: Exclusion of evidence against application of document to existing facts:
“When language used in a document is plain in itself, and when it applies accurately to existing facts, evidence may not be given to show that it was not meant to apply to such facts.”
Illustration: A sells to B, by deed, ‘my estate at Rampur containing 100 bighas.’ A has an estate at Rampur containing 100 bighas. Evidence may not be given of the fact that the estate meant to be sold was on situated at a different place and of a different size.
Latent ambiguity is defined in Secs.95 to 98 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Sec.95: Evidence as to document unmeaning in reference to existing facts:
“When language is used in a document is plain in itself, but is unmeaning in reference to existing facts, evidence may be given to show that it was used in a peculiar sense.”
Illustration: A sells B, by deed, ‘my house in Calcutta. A had no house in Calcutta, but it appears that he had a house at Howrah, of which B had been in possession since the execution of the deed. These facts may be proved to show that the deed related to the house at Howrah.
Sec.96: Evidence as to application of language which can apply to one only of several persons:
“When the facts are such that the language used might have been meant to apply to any one, and could not have been meant to apply to more than one, of several persons or things, evidence may be given of facts which show which of those persons or things it was intended to apply to.
Illustration: A agrees to sell to B, for Rs.1000 ‘my white horse’. A has two white horses. Evidence may be given of facts which show which of them was meant.
Sec.97: Evidence as to application of language to one of two sets of facts, to neither of which the whole correctly applies:
“When the language used applies partly to one set of existing facts, and partly to another set of existing facts, but the whole of it does not apply correctly to either, evidence may be given to show to which of the two it was meant to apply.”
Illustration: A agrees to sell to B ‘my land at X in the occupation of Y’. A has land at X, but not in the occupation of Y, and he has land in the occupation of Y, but it is not at X. Evidence may be given of facts showing which he meant to sell.
Sec.98: Evidence as to meaning of illegible characters etc.
“Evidence may be given to show the meaning of illegible or not commonly intelligible characters, of foreign, obsolete, technical, local and provincial expressions of abbreviations and of words used in a peculiar sense.”
Illustration: A, sculptor, agrees to sell to B ‘all my models.’ A has both models and modeling tools. Evidence may be given to show which he meant to sell.