Interpretation of Contractual Terms in Legal Analysis

In a recent legal case, the court’s precise analysis of contractual terms and surrounding circumstances sheds light on the complexities of legal interpretation. The careful consideration of evidence, adherence to legal principles, and emphasis on contextual interpretation play a pivotal role in determining the outcome. This blog delves into the significance of how courts approach the interpretation of contracts and the impact it has on resolving disputes. Stay tuned for a deep dive into the nuances of legal analysis in contractual matters.


  • An Australian company, Anglo American Metallurgical Coal Pty. Ltd., appealed regarding a dispute with MMTC Ltd. over coal deliveries.
  • The Long Term Agreement between the parties included provisions for multiple Delivery Periods, with the Fifth Delivery Period extended by agreement to expire on 30th September 2009.
  • The Appellant’s refusal to confirm stem availability for August and September 2009 led to disputes over quantities not lifted by MMTC.
  • Shipment details, pricing agreements, and confirmed deliveries were outlined as part of the dispute.
  • The parties had ad hoc agreements for specific quantities of coal at different prices, leading to discrepancies in total quantities lifted.
  • The Dissenting Award found that the Appellant failed to prove the quantum of damages as of the date of breach of the LTA.
  • The Majority Award concluded that there was no repudiation of the contract by Anglo and no acceptance of such repudiation by MMTC.
  • The Majority Award was challenged under section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 before the Single Judge of the High Court of Delhi, who upheld the Majority Award.

Also Read: Judicial Discretion in Contractual Interpretation


  • The Respondent’s request for a price reduction was made on the same day the Fifth Delivery Period price was agreed, which is extraordinary.
  • The Claimant was not in breach of contract for failing to supply goods during the Fifth Delivery Period.
  • The detailed issues identified in the Terms of Reference include whether the Claimant is entitled to interest on any damages, interest rates for pendente lite, and post pendente lite, as well as costs of arbitration and interest on costs awarded.
  • The Respondent breached the contract by not lifting 454,034 MT of coking coal within the Fifth Delivery Period.
  • The Claimant’s claims are examined against limitations and the failures of any party to perform obligations under the Contract.
  • The issue of whether the Claimant was in breach of contract for failing to supply goods during the Fifth Delivery Period is raised.
  • Exploration of whether the Claimant is entitled to any damages and the determination of the breach date.

Also Read: Limitation Period in Arbitration Disputes: Court’s Legal Analysis


  • The Appellant argued that the Respondent was in breach of the LTA contract by seeking coal deliveries at a reduced rate below the contractual price.
  • The Appellant provided evidence through correspondence and witness testimony to show their ability to supply the contracted quantity of coal at the agreed price.
  • The Division Bench’s conclusion that there was ‘no evidence’ to support these claims was deemed incorrect.
  • The context of the correspondence indicated the Respondent’s repeated requests for coal at a lower price, showing their ability to lift coal at the contractual rate was the key issue.
  • Shri Kapil Sibal, representing the Appellant, highlighted the factual findings supporting the Appellant’s position under the LTA contract, emphasizing the lack of dispute over key terms such as quantity, price, and remaining unlifted coal.
  • The Division Bench’s assertion of ‘no evidence’ regarding damage suffered as of the breach date was disputed as factually incorrect by the Appellant’s counsel.
  • The Appellant breached and repudiated the LTA by failing to confirm a stem in Aug/Sep and stating lack of coal availability for the remainder of the year.
  • The market was affected by the global financial crisis, resulting in a crash in demand for steel and relevant coking coal.
  • Evidence suggests a substantial reduction in demand for coking coal in late 2008 and early 2009, supporting the Claimant’s supply availability.
  • The Claimant’s distress sales of coal were confirmed, indicating market challenges and lower realizations in the pig iron sector.
  • Contrary to Respondent’s assertion, the Tribunal accepted the evidence that the Claimant had coal supply available for delivery.
  • The Fifth Delivery Period price, set shortly after the global financial crisis, was notably higher than preceding periods, indicating market fluctuations.

Also Read: Interpretation of Royalty in Software Import Case


  • The Majority Award and the Courts carefully considered the correspondence exchanged between the parties, along with the oral evidence and agreement dates.
  • Emphasis was placed on the contextual interpretation of the contractual terms in light of the surrounding circumstances.
  • Provisions of the Evidence Act regarding extrinsic evidence were examined to determine the admissibility and relevance of the information presented.
  • The importance of coherence in the entirety of the correspondence was highlighted for a comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • The principle of interpreting contracts in accordance with the parties’ objective intentions was reiterated throughout the analysis.
  • The need for a holistic view of the facts and evidence was stressed, especially considering the ambiguity and consistency of the communications.
  • Various legal precedents and judgments were referenced to support the rationale behind the interpretation of contractual terms.
  • The Majority Award’s approach of interpreting the documents collectively rather than in isolation was deemed critical for a fair assessment of the case.
  • The implications of the parties’ correspondence on the contractual obligations and breach allegations were carefully reviewed.
  • The concept of latent and patent ambiguities in legal interpretation was discussed in relation to the evidence presented in the case.
  • The Majority Award’s decision-making process was characterized as thorough, considering all relevant factors and evidence in arriving at a reasoned conclusion.
  • The dispute in this case concerns the supply of goods under an Agreement.
  • The Claimant was capable of fulfilling its obligations under the Agreement by supplying the required quantities in a timely manner.
  • The Claimant’s claims are not barred by limitation.
  • The proviso (6) to section 92 of the Evidence Act is crucial in this context.
  • Sections 94 and 95 of the Evidence Act also play a role in the interpretation of facts.
  • The disputes between the parties arose regarding shipments covered by the Fifth Delivery Period.
  • A panel of 4 arbitrators, including legal experts, examined emails and letters exchanged between the parties.
  • The international arbitral award was delivered in New Delhi on 12.05.2014.
  • The arbitrator’s approach should not be considered arbitrary or capricious when re-examining facts.
  • Extrinsic evidence is inadmissible if parties intended to embody their entire agreement in a written contract.
  • Section 94 of the Evidence Act provides guidance in interpreting documents and applying facts accurately.
  • Extrinsic evidence can be used to show a peculiar sense of language in a document when unmeaning in reference to existing facts.
  • A court should consider all surrounding facts and circumstances to interpret the terms of a contract.
  • Ambiguity plays a role in interpreting contracts when plain language may have possible alternative meanings.
  • Perversity in an award is determined by whether a reasonable person would have arrived at the same decision.
  • The Parol Evidence Rule, embedded in s 94 of the Evidence Act, restricts the use of extrinsic material to affect a contract.
  • An award may not be set aside merely for an erroneous application of the law or reappreciation of evidence.
  • The court’s interference with an award must not exceed the restrictions laid down under Section 34.
  • The meaning of words in a document should be accepted based on existing facts unless ambiguous or unmeaning.
  • The Court must interpret the author’s expressed intentions based on clear and unambiguous language in a document.
  • A decision may be considered perverse if based on no evidence or thoroughly unreliable evidence.
  • The judgments that turn 65 on their own facts hold no application to the present case.
  • It has been found that the Majority Award in this case is a possible view given the correspondence between the parties.
  • The Majority Award cannot be characterized as perverse based on the fact situation of this case.


  • The appeal stands allowed.
  • MMTC has unperformed deliveries for the Fifth Delivery Period.
  • MMTC has not informed about arrangements for performing obligations under the Agreement.
  • A proposed Delivery Schedule for the Fifth Delivery Period is requested from MMTC.
  • Response is required by close of business Brisbane time on Friday 20th March 2009.
  • The Majority Award dated 12.05.2014 and Single Judge’s judgment dated 10.07.2015 are restored.
  • The Respondent’s application under section 34 of the Arbitration Act is dismissed.
  • The Claimant is entitled to costs of the arbitration in the amount of US$977,395.00.


Case Number: C.A. No.-004083-004083 / 2020

Click here to read/download original judgement

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