Legal Maxim

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Literal Meaning

The best way to construe a document is to read it as it would be read when it was made.




This maxim is based on the principle of Salmond- “the essence of law lies in the spirit, not its letter or the latter is significant only as being the external manifestation of the intention that underlies it”. It means to read the statute by reference to the exposition it has received from the authority where the language given by the authority is plain and unambiguous. The maxim is considered to be the best exposition of a statute or any other document as it states that the construction as provided by the authority is competent enough. It states that the words of statutes should be construed in a true sense as in the manner created by the person who created such a statute. The maxim aims at providing meaning to the words when the statutes were constructed logically and should bore the meaning as to that when it was passed.


If some provision of a particular Act defines that only a particular section of the society is eligible for the benefits of reservation or anything else and since it was been particularly mentioned and the intention by applying the principle of ‘Contemporanea Expositio Est Optima Et Fortissmo in lege’ is clear and definite, it means that only that particular section of the society can prevail the benefits offered by the provision and none else unless otherwise mentioned.

Case laws

JK Cotton Spinning and Weaving Mills Ltd and another v. Union of India and Others, the appellants are operating composite mills where they manufacture different kinds of fabrics at the immediate stage and for the same, they have to pay excise duty which was removed from the factory. The Collector Central Excise issued a notice under rule 9(1) of the central rules demanding the payment of central excise.  The appellants contended that they are liable to pay the excise only when the yarn is removed from the factory and pleaded ‘Contemporanea Expositio Est Optima Et Fortissmo in lege’, however, the apex court rejected the appeal by taking into the amount another case of KP Varghese v. Income-tax Officer, Ernakulam, in which it was observed by the court that if in any case there is ambiguity and a word is capable of two constructions then the principle can be applied but in the instant case the maxim of Contemporanea Expositio Est Optima Et Fortissmo in lege cannot be applied as there is no ambiguity.

This maxim has been written and submitted by Ms. Arushi Lamba during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Ms. Arushi is a 4th-year law student of Panjab University, Chandigarh.

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