The cognition of contract interpretation

Presented by Dr Ryan Catterwell, 21 August 2020.


Two people are chatting at a café. They reach an agreement. You are watching them. You are asked to determine what they agreed on a particular issue – an issue that they addressed either in vague terms, inconsistently, or in apparent error. 

This is akin to the role of the judge or lawyer in a case of contract interpretation.

In this talk, Ryan will use hypothetical and real case examples to explain what judges and lawyers are doing when construing a contract. He will demonstrate that an interpretive dispute is resolved by ascertaining what was objectively intended by the choice of words in the contract, taking into account the potential meanings for the words, the background, the purpose of the transaction, and the practical consequences of the competing interpretations.

Video timestamps
3:46 - Overview of theory
5:15 - The four stages of contract interpretation
7:00 - Illustrative hypothetical examples
15:05 - Real case examples

About the presenter

Dr Ryan Catterwell is a Lecturer at the UQ Law School. He teaches undergraduate Contract Law.

Dr Catterwell holds a PhD in contract interpretation from the University of Sydney. He is published on contract law in leading Australian and English journals. He is the author of a book titled "A Unified Approach to Contract Interpretation" that is to be published by Hart Publishing in 2020.

Dr Catterwell's research interests include private law, commercial law, contract theory, legal interpretation, logic and law, and law and technology. In broad terms, his research seeks to explain the law by employing a blend of theoretical and empirical methods. Ryan also applies his doctrinal research in exploring the extent to which legal reasoning can be automated.

Prior to joining academia, Dr Catterwell practised for several years in a litigious, advisory and transactional capacity. He continues to practise as a consultant for a leading global law firm. In both his research and his teaching, Ryan brings to bear his commercial and practical experience.

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