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Ejusdem Generis
Last updated: 06-Oct-2014

Larsen v Sylvester & Co [1908] ER Rep 247, AC 295 per Lord Robertson at p.250:

I hope nothing will be deduced from cur decision today which shakes the soundness of what is called the ejusdem generis system of construction, because it seems to me that both in law, and also as matter of literary criticism, it is perfectly sound - that is to say, that where there are specific specimens given of what are intended a deduction is to be made from that applicable to other matters. I base my opinion in the present case solely upon this. The parties, I think, have realised, or at least may well be held to have realised, the applicability of that rule to such contracts as charterparties and they inserted these words "of what kind soever" simply for the purpose of excluding that rule of construction. The effect of the insertion of these words is to exclude the limitation which would naturally arise from the context and gives to the word "hindrance" its full meaning.

Per Devlin J in Chandris v Isbrandtsen-Moller Co Inc [1950] 1 All ER 768 at 771,773:

A rule of construction cannot be more than a guide to enable the court to arrive at the true meaning of the parties. The ejusdem generis rule means that there is implied into the language which the parties have used words of restriction that are not there. It cannot be right to approach a document with the presumption that there should be such an implication. To apply the rule automatically in that way would be to make it the master and not the servant of the purpose for which it was designed, namely, to ascertain the meaning of the parties from the words they have used.

…Draftsmen of charterparties - whether of the printed form or of the type-written clause, but, perhaps, especially of the latter - are probably not consciously familiar even with the idea of ejusdem generis. This charterparty refers, for example, to "a full and complete cargo of wheat and/or maize and/or other lawful merchandise." Nobody has ever, I think, suggested that the merchandise has to be similar to wheat or maize, although the first question which would occur to a lawyer would be to ask himself why the parties bothered to refer to wheat or maize, if they meant that the cargo might be anything from chalk to cheese, including turpentine.

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