Section 93 to 98 of the Indian evidence Act, 1872 has explained the rules of admission or exclusion of extrinsic evidence which is in the difference of a document which may or may not be a contract.
There are two ambiguities in the language of a document, which are as follows-
- Patent Ambiguity
- Latent Ambiguity
When the language of a document is unsure or unsettled then, such ambiguity is said to be patent ambiguity whereas, an ambiguity which does not exist but it appears due to extrinsic factors is called latent ambiguity.
It is not an easy task for an ordinary person to identify the difference between patent ambiguity and latent ambiguity. However, they can be easily identified by understanding the points given below: –
- While reading a document, if any ambiguity is discovered but without a definite meaning or no definite meaning can be concluded then, such ambiguity is patent ambiguity.
For example-As per an agreement, “A will sell his car for 4,00,000 or 6,00,000”. Here, no clear meaning comes out as there is a doubt that A will sell his car for 4 lakhs or 6 lakhs.
- While reading a document, if any ambiguity is not discovered and the meaning seems or is definite aur clear, but, with the reference of fact, the ambiguity comes out and the meaning of the document becomes indefinite then, such ambiguity is latent ambiguity.
For example-As per an agreement, A sold his house to B stating in the deed as “my house in Lucknow”, but A has no house in Lucknow but he has a house in Varanasi in which B has been living since the deed was executed. Here, the deed was without any doubtfulness, but in connection with the fact, the meaning of the deed becomes indefinite/unclear.
|Patent Ambiguity||Latent Ambiguity|
|1. It deals with section 93 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.||1. It deals with sections 95,96, 97 & 98 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.|
|2. It refers to uncertainty on the face of a legal document which gives the contract or agreement an indefinite meaning.||2. It refers to an ambiguity that doesn’t readily appear on the face of a legal document but appears only in the light of knowledge gained from a collateral matter.|
|3. Here, oral evidence is not allowed for the removal of ambiguity.||3. Here, oral evidence is allowed for the removal of ambiguity (as per a Latin maxim ‘falsa demonstratio non nocet’, which means a false description doesn’t void a document, as long as the intent is clear).|
|4. Under section 29 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, an agreement based on patent ambiguity is void.||4. Here, an agreement based on latent ambiguity is valid if the uncertainty is removed.|
|5. Here, the rule says that this type of ambiguity makes the document useless.||5. Here, the rule says that this type of ambiguity doesn’t make the document useless.|
Exclusion of evidence to explain or amend ambiguous document, i.e., according to section-93 “When the language used in a document is, on its face, ambiguous or defective, evidence may not be given of facts which would show its meaning or supply its defects.”
- X agrees, in writing, to sell his house to Y for “Rs. 10,00,000 or Rs. 15,00,000”. Evidence cannot be given to show which price was to be given.
- A deed contains blank spaces. Evidence cannot be given of facts which would show how they were meant to be filled.
This section explains the first principle of patent ambiguity. Oral evidence cannot be used to provide an explanation based on section 93, but it can explain latent ambiguity under section 96 of the Act. According to the provisions of this section, ambiguity means that the documents on their face cannot be understood and the defects cannot be eliminated. When there is ambiguity in the document, the language used in the document can determine the issue alone, rather than by the parties based on external evidence. By applying the rules of interpretation, no clear meaning can be found.
Case: Keshav Lal v. Lal Bhai T. Mills Ltd[i]. – Here, the Supreme Court held that it would not be open for the parties or the court to remove the vagueness by relying upon extrinsic evidence. Such an attempt would really mean the making of a new contract between the parties.[i]
Exclusion of evidence against application of document to existing facts, i.e., “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.”
- X sells to Y, by deed, “my estate at Ramnagar containing 150 bighas”. X has an estate at Ramnagar containing 150 bighas. Evidence may not be given of the fact that the estate meant to be sold was one situated in a different place and of a different size.
- I.e., In the event that the content of the deed of sale represents the sale of a particular land, the language of the document must be clear and unambiguous. It is not allowed to prove that the land sold is another land.
When the language used in the document is simple and clear, this section emphasizes the correct application of the facts available. No evidence will be accepted to show that this is inconsistent with the facts. Therefore, this section comes into play when the language of the document considered by the court is relevant to any factual situation. Therefore, this section does not deal with any form of ambiguity, patent or latent. It will only apply when the implementation of the document is accepted and the acceptance can be interpreted by its maker.
Case: General Court Marshal v. Col. Anil Tej Singh Dhaliwal[ii]-Here the Supreme Court held that section 94 is only applicable in cases when the execution of the document is admitted before the court and there are no vitiating circumstances against it. [ii]
The provisions of Chapter VI of the Indian Evidence Act deal with the exclusion of oral evidence in favor of documented evidence. There are times when oral evidence cannot be used to support documented evidence in court, and other times when oral evidence can be used to support documentary evidence. This chapter must be followed in order to deal with all of the provisions.
[i] Keshav Lal v. Lal Bhai T. Mills Ltd. [1958 AIR 512, 1959 SCR 213]
[ii] The General Court Martial & Ors Vs. Col. Aniltej Singh Dhaliwal  INSC 930 (12 December 1997)