European Review of Private Law

Volume 26 (2018)

Volume 26 (2018) / Issue 6

Michel Cannarsa, 'Interpretation of Contracts and Smart Contracts: Smart Interpretation or Interpretation of Smart Contracts?' (2018) 26 European Review of Private Law, Issue 6, pp. 773–785


Abstract: The computer language (computer code) on the basis of which smart contracts are written is different from the natural (Human) language. Computer language is a ‘dry’ language, whereas natural language is ‘wet’. In other words, it means that computer language is deterministic (just one meaning and one result are conceivable), when natural language is open to more and potential different meanings. Natural language requires therefore in itself interpretation, at least more than computer language. Computer language in theory doesn’t require and possibly doesn’t leave room for interpretation. If this assumption is accurate, what are the consequences of it (on the intention of the parties, on contract drafting, on courts’ intervention…)? Building on that assumption, this article explores, from a comparative perspective, the impact of the blockchain-based smart contract technology, especially regarding contract drafting techniques. Contract drafting style in common law (long contracts, based on a ‘if …, then ….’ approach, quite similar to the coding approach) is in part based on the idea of preventing courts’ interpretation and intervention. In civil law countries instead, contracts are generally shorter, for several reasons but partly because drafters tend to rely on more general legal concepts, external to the contract, and know that courts will play an important role, through interpretation, in disclosing the ‘true meaning’ of a contract. Coding contracts and relying on computer-code language can hence have a significant impact on the civil law approach and bring the two legal systems closer as far as contract drafting and contract interpretation are concerned.

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ISSN: 0928-9801
ID: ERPL2018054