Contractual Interpretation: Do Judges Sometimes Say One Thing and Do Another?

AuthorSir Geoffrey Vos
PositionChancellor of the High Court of England and Wales
S G V*
is article questions whether the factual situation that arose in ICS v
West Bromwich Building Society would be decided the same way today. e
developments in the law of contractual interpretation are tracked through
Chartbrook v Persimmon Homes and Lord Homann’s retirement . It is suggested
that there has been a sea change in Rainy Sky, Arnold v Britton, and Wood v
Capita, even though those cases sug gest that they are about continuity. e change
of approach is compared with the developments taking place at the same time in
the law of implied terms and in the use of mutual mistake rectication found
in Daventry DC v Daventry & District Housing. e conclusion is that it may
be better to interpret a written agreement in accordance with what the parties
obviously agreed judged from the other terms of the contract and the admissible
factual matrix, rathe r than rectifying a contract for mutual mistake to say exactly
the opposite of what one of those parties would or could ever agree. e dierence
of approach between common law and equity judges is explored.
I. I 
It is perhaps obvious that many people say one thing and do another, and
they do not say exactly what they mean. is may be what Lord Homann
was speaking about when he said in Mannai Investments Co Ltd v Eagle Star
Life Assurance Co Ltd that:1
If one meets an acquaintance a nd he says “And how is
Mary?” it may be obvious that he is referring to one’s wife,
even if she is in fact called Jane. One may even, to avoid
embarrassment, answer “Very well, thank you” without
drawing attention to his mistake.
1 Mannai Investmen ts Co Ltd v Eagle Star Life Assuran ce Co Ltd [1997] AC 749 [Mannai].
* Chancellor of t he High Court of En gland and Wales.  is article is ba sed on a lecture
delivered to the Hong Kong jud iciary on 16 October 2017, and as a Hotung Fellows hip
lecture at the Unive rsity of Canterbury on 18 October 2017.

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