10 key principles when interpreting contractual documents

The ATO has released on its legal database a series of what until recently have been internal ATO documents.

The release of these documents in an initiative that the ATO has labelled “iNOW!” (a contraction of “interpretation now”) and is, according to assistant commissioner Gordon Brysland, “a reinvention initiative to drive awareness on what is happening on the statutory interpretation front”.

“iNOW! began as a way to address the need – recognised by top judges – for those working with legislation to get better at reading it,” Brysland says. The iNOW! documents are therefore aimed at improving awareness about statutory interpretation. The documents, which are labelled “episodes”, are not public rulings or legal advice and are not binding on the ATO.

Brysland, representing the Tax Counsel Network, states at the outset of the latest iNow! (which is episode 20 in a series of monthly releases) the following. “Resolution of tax disputes depends on applying the law as it is to the facts as found. If the facts are wrong, so usually will be the tax.”

He then goes on to explain that findings of fact often depend on contractual interpretation, so it is very important to know the basics.

To that end, the latest iNow! provides a list of the 10 key things to keep in mind, with an explanation of each. These include concepts such as “implied terms”, “congruent operation”, “surrounding circumstances” and more.

Download iNow! episode 20 here.

The monthly iNow! series began in June 2015, and the ATO says it has made them public in response to growing external interest. Until now, they have been filed under “miscellaneous papers” in the ATO’s legal database.

The episodes released already can be found on the legal database page. Type “interpretation NOW” into the search toolbar on that page and scroll down the resulting list of results to find all 20 episodes (all with CPD value). More episodes will be added each month, so it may be worthwhile to bookmark the page.

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