Qui haeret in litera, haeret in cortice

Qui haeret in litera, haeret in cortice

Literal Meaning

He who clings to the letter, sticks in the bark.

Explanation & Origin

Qui haeret in litera, haeret in cortice is a Latin maxim. It means ‘he who clings to the letter, sticks in the bark. The maxim denotes that, if the interpretation of writing is too literal, it does not reach the heart or core of the transaction. A person who sticks to the mere words of an instrument cannot arrive at its meaning or substance.

Explanation – Qui Haeret in Litera Haeret in Cortice is a legal maxim, used in India, with the following meaning: He who sticks in the letter sticks in the bark, i.e., he does not get at the substance or the meaning.


If a person gets a legal notice and if doesn’t get the meaning then it means he is stuck in the bark.

Case Reference

In the case of  Ballavdas Agarwala vs Shri J. C. Chakravarty[1] it was observed that Delegation of administrative powers is one thing, and delegation of power to do some specific act or acts is quite another. The general order in favour of the Vice-Chairman (No. 1) would not cut down the special orders of the Chairman. The general order cannot be read as special,because generalia verba sunt generaliter intelligenda, and generalities never derogate from specialities. It only granted the residuary powers which were not covered by the special delegations from time to time. No doubt, the word used is “all”, but the whole intent and purpose of the delegation must be borne in mind. Qui haeret in litera haeret in cortice. (Broome’s Legal Maxims, 9th Edn., p. 443). The rules of interpretation of statutes only follow rules of interpretation of deeds and instruments and not vice versa. To hold otherwise would mean that after the order of February 6, 1948 (No. 1), all functions, duties and powers including those specifically mentioned in the order book came to be centered in the Vice-Chairman. It was he alone who could inspect and examine house drains (s. 275), approve the site and position of the cesspools (s. 279), issue or serve notices (s. 503), inspect the service pipes (R. 5 (3)), examine the water pipes (R. 6)so on and so forth. And yet, this would be the effect of the Order of February 6, 1948, if the effect of the Order of April 7, 195 1, on the Order of December 20, 1949, is, as is claimed. It may be contented that if that is the effect of the Order, we can declare it to be so ; but one reaches this result only if one disregards the distinction between special and general orders, and there is no principle of interpretation on which it can be rested.

In the case of Dadamchand Keshrimal And Co. vs Commissioner Of Income-Tax[2] it was observed that Qui haeret in litera haeret in cortice (Co. Litt. 283 b.)-‘In interpreting an Act of Parliament, likewise, it is not always a true line of construction to decide according to the strict letter of the Act ; but, subject to the remarks already made, the courts may consider what is its fair meaning, and expound it differently from the letter, in order to preserve the intent. The meaning of particular words, indeed, in statutes, as well as in other instruments, is to be found not so much in a strict etymological propriety of language, nor even in popular use, as in the subject or occasion on which they are used, and the object that is intended to be attained.'”

In the case of Amithakumar Amichand vs Jawanthraj And Ors[3] wherein contains the golden rule which obliges the Court to consider the facts and substance of the matter and not the niceties of form :”Qui haeret in litera, haeret in cortice (He who considers merely the letter of an instrument goes but skin-deep into its meaning)-The law of England respects the effect and substance of the matter and not every nicety of form or circumstance. The reason and spirit of cases make law, and not the letter of particular precedents. Hence, it is as we have already seen, a general rule connected with the interpretation of deeds and written instruments, that where the intention is clear, too minute a stress should not be laid on the strict and precise signification of words.

Edited by Vigneshwar Ramasubramania

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


[1] 1960 AIR 576

[2] 1996 222 ITR 433 MP

[3] AIR 1983 Mad 324

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