A contemporaneous exposition is the best and strongest in law.
Where the language of a document, of whatever description, is doubtful, its meaning is best understood by reference to, and consideration of, the circumstances attending its original formation.
All deeds, wills, contracts, statutes, rtc, are made to effect some particular object, existing and in view of the parties at the time they are made ; and the circumstances attending their creation are, therefore, the best guides to their interpretation. Where, however, the language of the instrument is in itself clear and distinct, and capable of bearing a rational construction, no extrinsic circumstance of time, place, person, or thing will be permitted to be adduced in aid under this maxim ; for that would be to make a contract, etc, for the parties which, it plainly appeared, they themselves had not made.
The mode of construing our Acts of Parliament is the best illustration of this maxim ; and it is, according to Lord Coke, and . as since adopted, as follows : — To consider what was the common law before the Act, what the mischief or defect to be remedied, and what the remedy Parliament had resolved to adopt to cure the mischief or defect. The true reason and remedy whereof being ascertained, such construction should be made as will suppress the mischief and advance the remedy ; avoiding and suppressing subtle inventions and evasions, advanced pro privato commodo, and giving life and vigour to the remedy proposed pro bono publico. The preamble of a statute usually gives, or ought to give, this necessary information, and where it does so it forms part of the Act for the construction of it. To one unlearned in the law. it is absolutely necessary that he should
look to the preamble of a statute before he can understand the meaning of any part of it ; to those learned in the law, though proper at all times to be done, yet it is not necessary where the language is plain and obvious. It must be borne in mind that where the language of a statute is plain and obvious, no extrinsic evidence must be sought for whereby to put a construction upon it, however much the words used may be supposed to differ from the intention of the Legislature. For instance, a judge, having been entrusted to prepare a Bill in Parliament, cannot, where the consideration of it comes before him judicially, refer to his intention at the time of framing the Bill ; for his intention may not have been the subsequent intention of the Legislature, nor the construction they put upon the words used by him ; nor, in this case, can even the intention of the Legislature be considered. But, if any plain defect appear upon a statute, it must be construed as it plainly appears, and any such defect must be remedied also by statute. Where, however, the language of the statute is doubtful, the intention of the Legislature is to be con- sidered, and that construction adopted which those learned in the law did put upon it at the time it was made, or which those learned in the law shall afterwards put upon it by reference to the time when and circumstances under which it was made.
All documents between parties will bear the like rule of construction as Acts of Parliament. The precedents in the law and practice of our courts of law and equity, and their application to constantly recurring similar cases, form the best instances of the application of this maxim.
2 Inst. 11, 136, 181; The Bank of England v. Anderson, 3 Bing. N. C. 666 ; Weld v. Hornby, 7 East, 195 ; Gorham v. Bishop of Exeter, 5 Exoh. 630 ; Barbot v. Allen, 7 Exch. 609 ; Corporation of Newcastle v. Attorney- General and others, 12 CI. & Ein. 402 ; Sharpley v. Overseers of Mable- thorpe, 3 E. & B. 906 ; Jones v. Brown, 2 Exch. 329 ; Abley v. Dale, 11 C. B. 378 ; Arnold v. Eidge, 13 C. B. 763 ; Drummond „. Attorney- General, 2 H. L. Cas. 861 ; Reg. v. Sillem, 11 L. T. (N.S.) 223.