Legal Reforms Don't Do Justice to Nation of Few Words; the Law Embodies the Best Aspects of the English Language - That's Now under Threat, Says Patrick Marks

Article excerpt

Tucked away as it was in a corner of The Birmingham Post you may not have noticed a diverting little footnote to an article on the Woolf Reforms.

These reforms, the most fundamental change to the legal system for more than 100 years, have mainly attracted attention for the decision to remove the defendant's choice of whether he or she wishes to be tried by jury.

But these wide ranging reforms have extended to altering the legal language used in courts.

Apparently, the words used before were considered "archaic" and have been changed in favour of "plain English."

Among the new terms introduced under the system are:

An Anton Piller order becomes a search order.

n Ex parte becomes without justice.

n Mareva Injunction becomes freezing injunction.

n Plaintiff becomes claimant.

n Writ/default summons becomes claim form.

n In camera becomes in private.

n Third Party proceedings becomes Part 20 claim.

n Inter partes becomes with notice.

However understandable the intentions behind these changes they can only be seen as a sad indictment of a culture which is scared of knowledge and prefers to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator.

It is, quite simply, a dumbing down.

The law, like any other profession, is a complicated and obscure world which is Byzantine at times and can be baffling to outsiders.

We should, in theory, welcome any reforms which make it more accessible to the public, but do we really need to sacrifice the glorious language which the law uses in our quest for simplification?

Do we have to jettison the Latin, the bedrock of most of our vocabulary, just because a few people are not educated enough or too lazy to find out what these words mean?

Of course, it is better to write and speak as clearly as possible without resort to jargon or incomprehensible language, but that is very different from employing words which are devoid of colour or interest. …