European Journal of Law Reform

Article

Plain, Clear, and Something More?

Criteria for Communication in Legal Language

Keywords plain language, legislative drafting, definition, mediation, ignorance of the law
Authors Derek Roebuck
Author's information

Derek Roebuck
Professor Derek Roebuck, Senior Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London.
  • Abstract

      Legislation may be presumed to be intended to transmit a message to those whose conduct it aims to affect. That message achieves its purpose only insofar as it is intelligible to its recipients. Drafters should make every effort to use plain language, but not all meaning can be transferred in plain language. The true criterion is clarity.
      ‘Mediation’ and ‘conciliation’ are examples of definitions created by legislators which do not correspond with categories in practice. Historical research illuminates cultural differences which affect transmission of meaning. Recent practice also illustrates the possibilities of creative methods for resolving disputes and the dangers of unnecessary prescription.
      Imprecise thinking of legislators precludes transmission of precise meaning, as does preference for word-for-word translation. ‘Highest Common Factor’ language is no substitute for natural target language.
      No efforts of legislators or translators can prevail against political power. ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse’ overrides the imperative to transfer meaning.
      If research is to be effective, it must be not only comparative but interdisciplinary.

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