The Origins of Interpretive Canons in Domestic Legal Systems

University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 27/2018

forthcoming in J KlingerY Parkhomenko and C Salonidis (eds) Between the Lines of the Vienna Convention: Canons of Construction and Other Interpretive Principles in Public International Law: A Practitioners' Handbook (Wolters Kluwer

20 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2018 Last revised: 25 Apr 2018

See all articles by Michael Waibel

Michael Waibel

University of Vienna - Faculty of Law

Date Written: April 20, 2018


This chapter examines the domestic origins of the canons of construction used in treaty interpretation. It shows that these canons typically draw on domestic principles for statutory and contractual interpretation. Section I surveys general themes emerging from specific canons of construction, and provides a summary of some key links between the canons of construction and foundational sources such as the Roman Law Digest and the work of early international lawyers, such as Grotius, Pufendorf, and de Vattel.

Section II then zooms into some specific canons and their domestic origins. It examines the links that each canon has to the common and civil law traditions (and other sources), and the extent to which international tribunals have acknowledged the domestic origins of these canons. Just like national courts unconsciously rely on contract and statutory analogies in interpreting treaties, this section shows that international courts and tribunals often rely on these canons without awareness of their domestic origins, and even though they are not found explicitly in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Keywords: treaty interpretation; canons of interpretation; VLCT; effectiveness; contra proferentem; ejusdem generis; expressio unius; generalia specialibus non derogant; in dubio mitius

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Waibel, Michael, The Origins of Interpretive Canons in Domestic Legal Systems (April 20, 2018). University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 27/2018. Available at SSRN: or

Michael Waibel (Contact Author)

University of Vienna - Faculty of Law ( email )

Schottenbastei 10-16
Vienna, A-1010

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