Where there are two arguable interpretations of a contractual provision it is reasonable to have regard to the commercial consequences of the rival approaches

Rainy Sky SA v Kookmin Bank ([2011] UKSC 50) arose out of contracts for the building and sale of ships. The purchasers were to pay the purchase price in five installments and the contract provided that the installments would be refunded to the purchasers on the happening of any of certain events specified in the contract. The contracts required the shipbuilder to procure refund guarantees to protect the buyers against the possibility that the shipbuilder might fail to refund advance payments when required to do so under the terms of the contract. Kookmin Bank provided the refund guarantees. After the purchasers had paid the first installments due under their respective contracts, an event occurred entitling the purchasers to call for a refund of the installments. The purchasers invoked this clause but the shipbuilder refused to repay the money. The purchasers then sought payment from the Bank under the terms of the guarantee. The Bank refused to pay arguing that the guarantee did not cover the event that had occurred.

Lord Clarke (with whom the other members of the Supreme Court agreed) considered the rival constructions argued for by the parties and concluded that each interpretation was arguable. In such a case, the court could legitimately have regard to the commercial consequences of the rival interpretations. The interpretation that was most in line with the parties’ reasonable interpretations could be preferred:

‘If there are two possible constructions, the court is entitled to prefer the construction which is consistent with business common sense and to reject the other.’ ([21])

Where, however, the language was unambiguous then the court must apply it ([23]). At first instance an experienced judge of the Commercial Court expressed the view that the Bank’s construction ‘defies commercial common sense’. The purchasers’ construction was, therefore, to be preferred ([45]).

Michael Lower

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2 Responses to “Where there are two arguable interpretations of a contractual provision it is reasonable to have regard to the commercial consequences of the rival approaches”

  1. gogoy123 Says:

    And I suppose the same is always true with arguable interpretations of a statutory provision – that the court is entitled to prefer a construction that is consistent with ordinary common sense ?

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