Question: “A contemporaneous exposition is the best and most powerful in Law.” Briefly describe this principle of Statutory Interpretation.



The given phrase is the English translated version of the maxim: “Contemporanea Expositio est Optima et fortissimo in lege”.


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Brief Explanation

This maxim states that the best way to construe a provision of Law is to read it as would be read, when it was made. It implies that while interpreting any law, the judges should take the prevailing circumstances into the consideration. They should observe not only the “What the law is? But also “Why that particular Law was enacted? What were the prevailing circumstances at that time?”.

The maxim is based on the principle given by the Salmond: “the essence of a law lies in its spirit but not in its letter.”


Important Cases

1.      JK Cotton Spinning and Weaving Mills Ltd and another v Union of India and Others (AIR 1988 SC 191):

In this case, some provisions of the central excise rules were in contention. The appellants had pleaded for interpreting the said provisions in the light of the mentioned rule, i.e. contemporanea exposito. Moreover, they have sighted the previous judgement of the Supreme Court supporting their contention, which was rendered in the case of KP Varghese v the Income tax officer, Ernakulam.

While rejecting all the arguments, the court observed that in the relied case, there was ambiguity and a word was capable of two construction hence the maxim contempranea expositio was applied. But in this case, there is no as such ambiguity in and hence the maxim cannot be imported.


2.      National Textile Corporation, New Delhi and another v Swadeshi Mining and manufacturing Co Ltd, Lucknow and others (AIR 1988 SC 782):

In this case, the Supreme Court held that this maxim should only be use while interpreting old statutes, but not the modern one.


Also Read: Classification of Statute, A Detailed Study


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