Contract lawyers are often divided between two schools of thought: formalism and contextualism. In the realm of contractual interpretation, this division illuminates various debates surrounding the modern contextual approach. Ultimately, however, the divide between the ‘real and the paper deal’ does not fully reflect the relevant fault lines. The real contest is between rival interpretations attempting to make the most coherent sense of the available text and context surrounding the document. In characterising the true nature of the exercise, I draw upon theories of coherence to articulate a framework of ‘contextual coherence’ that involves concepts of competing narratives, the rational motivations of the parties, and the need for a holistic assessment of the best hypothesis, in accordance with the English courts’ ‘iterative approach’ to interpretation. I demonstrate that this framework enables us to explain and evaluate recent cases such as the UK Supreme Court decision of Arnold v Britton.
Zhong Xing Tan, Beyond the Real and the Paper Deal: The Quest for Contextual Coherence in Contractual Interpretation. Modern Law Review, Volume 79, Issue 4, pages 623–654, July 2016.