I have written about the language of the law on a previous blog, legalese otherwise known as legal jargon, baffling to non lawyers, I feel however deserves a discussion all of it's own. This blog is being written in light of LASPO and the impact of the same, which has only heightened the need for a more simplistic approach to the understanding and application of law. I am not advocating the law be dumbed down, just making a plea for clear trustworthy information relevant and user friendly for the litigant in person.
It seems to me, the government having made such heinous cuts to the legal aid budget, should invest in legal education so that we all can appreciate our rights and duties. The government websites are a step in the right direction, with simple tools to follow complete with forms readily downloadable; there is one issue however, it is the number of hard to reach people who do not have internet access, yes they do exist. Vulnerable people with no awareness of their rights be it in relation to their jobs, homes, money, even children/grandchildren may not have the savvy to navigate the internet and find that which may be clear to you and me, that is of course if they have access to the internet in the first place. The question is therefore how do we reach them?
I have broached the subject of a legal show, more on the lines of an educational programme with my local radio station, something more akin to empowerment and overcoming myths and fallacies as is often the case when approaching lawyers or the law itself; as opposed to addressing specific legal issues. The anonymity of the radio works, hence my on going efforts; it appeals to those whom in the privacy of their own homes can listen in and educate themselves. I say this in light of my offering legal advice in charitable organisations in Watford, some women were hesitant to seek advice, they were fearful of being seen coming into the centre and seeking help. This is one of the reasons I meet my clients either in their own home or in a neutral place over coffee.
My father once said knowledge is power, he was right; in this context the monopoly over legal knowledge and know how is still the preserve of the legal elite, the future of law no longer however allows for the same. Information both transparent and simple is crucial. Does it suit lawyers that legalese is unnecessarily complicated? Do we enjoy the obscurity it engenders? On a very grassroots level, let me tell you about a call I got earlier this week. A grandma seeking access to her grandson was advised by the Citizens Advice to go "bono," lost in translation is the only accurate way to describe this. This call got me thinking how do the government propose litigants in person not only navigate the maze that is our legal system but also interpret and apply the law; and on occasion against opposing counsel? I see the day to day struggles of said litigants frightened to complete the wrong form, fearful of abiding by court protocols if indeed they are aware of them in the first instance, not to mention understanding what is being said to them by the judge who inevitably and understandably will again use the aforementioned legalese and that too sometimes very fast! I haven't even mentioned the plight of those for whom English is not their first language.
Finance is now on the curriculum of several schools, should law too not be recognised as equally important? A basic knowledge of one's legal rights and duties, fundamental awareness of the difference between civil and criminal law etc, would this not go towards the removal of fear surrounding the legal system? Are we not always fearful of the unknown? Do the legal aid cuts not only exacerbate the same? One of the great paradoxes about the legal profession is that lawyers are among the most eloquent users of the English language whilst simultaneously unable to write a simple comprehensible sentence in a contract, deed, will, even a letter? Is it necessary the reader be inundated with what can only be described as, in some cases I ought to add, as convoluted and largely vacant prose?
The language of the law is of course a product of tradition and history based on the conservatism of the profession. Being au fait with Latin, appreciating the French influences of course will help, but how often does this apply to the reasonable man? Do we owe him to use one word despite knowing a wholly longer phrase is available? Should we in fact use plain English? Of course the answer in both cases is yes.
Whilst I appreciate the law need be as authoritative as possible thereby requiring the use of ritualistic formal and even archaic language, we must find a way of simplifying matters such that those whom can't afford lawyers but need the support of the law and access to justice, find a way to it without becoming lost in translation.