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MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HO CHI MINH CITY UNIVERSITY OF LAW

GRADUATION THESIS
B.A. DEGREE IN ENGLISH
Major: Legal English
THE TENDENCY OF UTILIZING PLAIN
ENGLISH IN LEGAL ENGLISH TEXTS
IN THE FUTURE
Supervisor: Cao Dang Quynh Tram, M.A.
Student: Nguyen Thi Ha
Student ID: 1652202010019
Class: LE41

Ho Chi Minh City, 2020


This page intentionally left blank


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
During the process of making this dissertation, I have received a lot of support from
my lecturers, my friends, and my family. There are no words that can express my
appreciation for the help they have given me.
Firstly, I wish to thank my supervisor Ms. Cao Dang Quynh Tram for her instructions
and supports during the time I wrote this thesis. She was so patient and kind when
helping me complete this thesis even sometimes I failed to follow the timeline
properly.
Also, as always, I thank my lecturers Mr. Nham Thanh Lap and Ms. Tran Hoang Tu
Linh for their valuable comments on my writing as well as the deep knowledge of
English they have taught me.


Besides, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Ms. Le Thi Xuan Thu, my
four-year study counsellor, for her commitments contributed not only to me but to all
my classmates.
I really appreciate my friends Pham Thu Huong and Ngo Kim Thanh for their work on
giving me advice and pointing out mistakes in my writing.
In preparing this thesis, I made considerable use of online library at Swinburne
University‘s website: https://www.swinburne.edu.au/ as reference. It was an indirect
site for me to access to the materials I need, I would like to thank my brother Nguyen
Phan Hiep Anh, a student at Swinburn University, for his support and assistance in
providing me with this precious and reliable source of knowledge.
Last but not least, I am deeply grateful to my family for what they have done
throughout the writing process of my thesis and my life in general.
Ho Chi Minh City, June 1, 2020


LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS

p.

Page

pp.

Pages

n.

Note number

No.


Number

Vol.

Volume

PEC

Plain English Campaign

etc.

Et cetera: and other similar things

U.S.

United States

UK

United Kingdom

ed.

edition

LGA

Local Government Association


SEC

U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION ................................................................................1
1.1

THE STUDY’S NECESSITY .........................................................................1

1.2

STUDY OBJECTIVES ....................................................................................2

1.3

RESEARCH SUBJECTS ................................................................................3

1.4

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ...................................................................3

1.5

RESEARCH’S QUESTION: ..........................................................................3

1.6


STRUCTURE OF THE THESIS ...................................................................4

CHAPTER 2: PLAIN LANGUAGE, A BRIEF HISTORY OF PLAIN
LANGUAGE AND ITS IMPORTANCE IN LEGAL ENGLISH TEXTS ..............5
2.1 PLAIN LANGUAGE (PLAIN ENGLISH) VERSUS TRADITIONAL
LEGAL LANGUAGE? ..........................................................................................5
2.2

HISTORY OF PLAIN LANGUAGE..........................................................8

2.3 THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAIN LANGUAGE IN LEGAL ENGLISH
TEXTS ...................................................................................................................14
CHAPTER 3: THE APPLICATION OF PLAIN ENGLISH INTO ACTUAL
LEGAL TEXTS ...........................................................................................................17
CHAPTER 4: VIEWS ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PLAIN ENGLISH IN
LEGAL DOCUMENTS ..............................................................................................23
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION ...................................................................................29


CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

1.1 THE STUDY’S NECESSITY
Legal practice is one of the most developing fields which affect people in various
aspects, including family relations (residence, marriage, divorce, adoption), business
relations (enterprise registration, trade, franchise, investment), to name just a few. In
fact, each person is protected by their own national law and their acts must follow it as
a tool to keep up the relation between them and the state. By a method applied by
almost countries in the world, the competent authorities undertake to enact laws and
other legal regulations to govern the social relations and protect rights of citizens and

assure that they will abide by the laws. Consequently, this process must be performed
in the most appropriate way.
Law-abiding citizens are believed to be protected by the law. Therefore, in order that
each person can become a law-abiding person, it is necessary for the law to be easily
complied with.
Though ones involved in this area are both professionals and lay people, legal texts are
―unnecessarily lengthy, overwritten, self-conscious and repetitious[, they] consist of
lengthy sentences and involved sentence construction[, they] are poorly structured and
poorly designed[, they] suffer from elaborate and often unnecessary crossreferencing‖1. That is the reason why the legal system of each country needs to be kept
in the most effective manner, from the way to be expressed to the way to be
understood by ordinary people.
As a matter of fact, it is difficult to write well even many colleges or university
graduates or accountants or doctors or businesspeople sometimes are not good writers.
In respect of legal sphere, due to its enormous impacts on people‘s lives, choosing the
language to be applied is crucial and needs much consideration.
1

Plain English and the Law: The 1987 Report Republished with a New Preface/Victorian Law Reform
Commission, p. 8, available at:
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1SibpolPC8ZlhOhpm970RUINBTd7eGYPX?fbclid=IwAR0zSf8UXyjDY
ay3LgEcgInYxPTD2xLby1WozC77MiicSEgIkCjygoW2meo

1


The idea of substituting legalese for plain language2, not a whole new idea, to be used
in legal texts can be worth considering since ―[the] use of plain English saves everyone
time and money and makes the law directly relevant to those who are affected by it‖3.
This tendency has already been supported and started in many countries while there is
still controversy from others‘ perspectives which argue for the use of traditional legal

language. Having said that, opinions on the change to language used in legal texts give
a doubt to the inadequacy in the traditional writing style and the demand to find a
"magic bullet"4 in using an appropriate legal language. In order words, if the
traditional legal language satisfies the expects of all involving parties including both
the drafters and the recipients, there will be no chance for plain language to arise in
this area.
Whether or not plain language is worth efforts is hard to confirm; however, the
propensity toward the use of plain English will be clarified in this dissertation.
1.2 STUDY OBJECTIVES
This thesis aims to provide a general knowledge of the plain language, or more
specifically plain language‘s definition and history in some English-speaking
countries. Besides, an approach to the application of plain language into actual legal
texts is also included in this writing. By following the plain language movement, some
professionals‘ viewpoints will be presented to provide readers with general views on
the problem of legal drafting language. Finally, with all the information in relation to
the past and present of plain English emergence, the main purpose of this dissertation
is to access to the tendency of using plain English in legal English texts in the future
and to predict whether or not it will replace traditional legal language to the whole
extent.

2

―Plain language‖ and ―plain English‖ can be used or mentioned interchangeably because the research subjects
of this thesis are completely in English-speaking countries.
3
John Pease, Plain English: A solution for effective communication, 9 November 2012, available at:
http://acla.acc.com/documents/item/1065
4
―Magic bullet‖ means ―a fast and effective solution to a serious problem‖. See Oxford Learner's Dictionaries,
available at: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/american_english/magic-bullet


2


1.3 RESEARCH SUBJECTS
Because this is a study of an academic aspects regarding legal sphere, I make a
decision to choose legal Acts and regulations in respect of the change to legal writing
as the main subjects researched due to its reliable characteristic. On the other hand, I
also include articles and books written by legal experts with contents regarding their
study on plain language as well as an evaluation of plain English‘s effectiveness when
being applied in legal texts.
1.4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
During the time writing this thesis, several research methods were applied with the
purpose of presenting a persuasive information on the plain, specifically:


Comparative method: Following different studies on the comparison of
corresponding legal documents before and after applying plain language to
give an answer about the utility and effectiveness of plain language.



Analyzing and synthesizing method: Presenting information from different
academic resources, including legal Acts, regulations, articles, law reviews,
news, and the like to analyze how much plain language is used, how
effective plain language is, and common plain English words is used to
replace the traditional ones. Actual legal contents were discussed before
drawing any conclusion of each matters presented.




Historical method: Presenting different historical piece of information in
documents about plain language to mention the emergence of plain
language as well as its development process.

1.5 RESEARCH’S QUESTION:
The question arising from this thesis is the potential substitution of traditional legal
language for plain English in the future. To be specific, this thesis will draw a general
picture of the utility and comments on the plain English in legal texts, leading to the
prediction of the future of plain language.

3


1.6 STRUCTURE OF THE THESIS
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER 2: PLAIN

LANGUAGE,

A

BRIEF

HISTORY

OF

PLAIN


LANGUAGE AND ITS IMPORTANCE IN LEGAL ENGLISH
TEXTS
CHAPTER 3: THE APPLICATION OF PLAIN ENGLISH INTO ACTUAL
LEGAL TEXTS
CHAPTER 4: VIEWS ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PLAIN ENGLISH IN
LEGAL DOCUMENTS
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION

4


CHAPTER 2: PLAIN LANGUAGE, A BRIEF HISTORY OF
PLAIN LANGUAGE AND ITS IMPORTANCE IN LEGAL
ENGLISH TEXTS

2.1 PLAIN LANGUAGE (PLAIN ENGLISH) VERSUS TRADITIONAL
LEGAL LANGUAGE?
PLAIN LANGUAGE
According to the website of Oxford Learner Dictionary, ―in plain English‖ means
―simply and clearly expressed, without using technical language‖5.
Based on the report ―Plain English: A solution for effective communication‖ which
was presented by Professor John Pease, plain English ―refers to language that is clear,
direct, and straightforward. It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary
and convoluted sentence construction. It is language that allows readers to concentrate
on the message conveyed, not on the difficulty of the language used. Plain English
uses the right word for the right occasion and does not use unnecessary words‖6.
Legal texts containing plain English do not mean applying wholly a set of ordinary,
simple, daily-used English or using solely your simplifying language. However,
utilizing plain English is defined as a writing style that is ―clear, concise, wellorganized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and
intended audience‖.7 In other words, it is not necessary without jargons, plain English

is ―clear English – it is simple and direct but not simplistic‖.8 In any type of legal
documents, the concentration must be giving ―a cooperative, motivated person a good

5

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/plain_1?q=plain
John Pease, Plain English: A solution for effective communication, 9 November 2012 http://acla.acc.com/documents/item/1065
7
Plain Writing Act of 2010 (United States), October 1, 2010, passed Congress, section 3(3).
8
John Pease, Plain English: A solution for effective communication, 9 November 2012 http://acla.acc.com/documents/item/1065
6

5


chance of understanding it at first reading, and in the same sense that the writer meant
it to be understood‖.9
Here we mention plain English, an alternative for legalese (legal jargons). With the
definition above, this type of language has its main concentration on the intended
recipient and is used for the demand of understanding legal information.

TRADITIONAL LEGAL LANGUAGE (LEGALESE)
Legalese, on the contrary, is a technical term that refers to ―a style of writing that is
wordy, complex, legal and shaped by history‖10, this writing style has become a
distinctive dialect of those involved in fields of law. As defined in Oxford Learner
Dictionary, ―legalese‖ means ―the sort of language used in legal documents that is
difficult to understand‖11. Despite being ―a block to communication with clients‖12, it
has been still included as a main course for teaching law students and considered as a
powerful ―tool‖ of lawyers during their legal practices.

Mentioning again the report ―Plain English: A solution for effective communication‖13
by John Pease, one of the theories related to the rise of tradition legal language was
since the Norman invasion of England in 1066. At that time, the conquerors
downplayed English language, and the French was the dominant language to be taught
to their subject. This act did not only give a change to the British‘s everyday
communication but also to the contemporary legal system and the governing bodies.
The Norman conquerors would like to achieve the effectiveness of business
9

Martin Cutts, The Oxford Guide to Plain English, p. 11,
https://books.google.com.vn/books?id=9SA0UKfruwwC&pg=PR11&lpg=PR11&dq=%22cooperative,+motivat
ed+person+a+good+chance%22&source=bl&ots=I7Vf86PtTN&sig=ACfU3U1fp4yGjDcqzg_XSM6YfFt2sB5Lw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiRr_yR_8noAhVRBKYKHXFUArsQ6AEwAXoECAwQKA#v=onepage
&q=%22cooperative%2C%20motivated%20person%20a%20good%20chance%22&f=false
10
Stephen Hunt, Drafting: plain English versus legalese, Waikato law review, 1995, Vol 3, p.
164,https://www.waikato.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/125200/Waikato-Law-Review-vol-3-1995.pdf
11
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/legalese?q=LEGALESE
12
John Pease, Plain English: A solution for effective communication, 9 November 2012, available at:
http://acla.acc.com/documents/item/1065
13
John Pease, Plain English: A solution for effective communication, 9 November 2012, pp. 5-6, available at:
http://acla.acc.com/documents/item/1065

6


transactions; however, they also wanted to make their language prevailing. Therefore,
the result was to put English, Norman words and Latin (if necessary) together since

they could not remove entirely the original language in the contemporary society.
Then an assorted language system was formed with an complex language system.
Here are some typical words taken as examples to show the differences among three
languages:

The old English

… and …

French

acknowledge

and confess

act

and deed

breaking

and entering

final

and conclusive

free

and clear


goods

and chattels

The French

… and …

Latin

peace

and quiet

save

and except

The English

… and …

Latin
and testament14

will

Since there are three different languages which were used in one community, each
term has its corresponding substitutions in the other two languages. As a result, not

just the language system of the law but all the social aspects would have been affected
by the complexity of language use.
14

John Pease, Plain English: A solution for effective communication, 9 November 2012, available at:
http://acla.acc.com/documents/item/1065

7


2.2 HISTORY OF PLAIN LANGUAGE

IN THE UK
Many researches, reports, law reviews have suggested the earliest historical period
when the plain language (the Plain English movement) appeared, most of which was
from mid-1970s. Conversely, there was also materials recording the emergence of this
modern writing style at the earlier stages.
Over time, due to the confusion arising from the use of legal language, one of the
initial efforts mentioning the utility of Plain English was Pleading in English Act 1362
(also known as ―the Statute of Pleading‖), an Act of England‘s Parliament. However,
following The Anglicisation of English Law by Gillian Gillies, ―the Statute of
Pleading could never have signaled complete triumph of the English language as it did
not require the translation of the law to English generally, but only purported to
change the language of oral pleadings‖.15 This showed an incomplete attempt when the
statute only focused on the spoken aspects, not to mention that this Act was written in
French.
Prior to the Restoration in 1660 in England, another endeavor to improve the
readability of legal documents was an Act of Parliament of England passed under the
reign of Cromwell in November 1650.16 In particular, it was designed to translate ―all
the Report-Books of the Resolutions of Judges, and other Books of the Law of

England, shall be Translated into the English Tongue‖.17 Unfortunately, this legal
regulation was not supported by most of legal professionals and was revoked shortly
afterwards.

15

Gillian Gillies, The Anglicisation of English Law,Te Mata Koi: Auckland University Law Review, Vol. 17,
2011, p. 171, http://www.nzlii.org/nz/journals/AukULawRw/2011/8.pdf
16
Act for turning the Books of the Law and all Process and Proceedings in Courts of Justice into the English
Tongue, passed on 22 November 1650 by the Rump Parliament during the Commonwealth of England.
17
'November 1650: An Act for turning the Books of the Law, and all Process and Proceedings in Courts of
Justice, into English.', in Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660, ed. C H Firth and R S Rait
(London, 1911), pp. 455-456. British History Online,http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/acts-ordinancesinterregnum/pp455-456

8


Regarding ―Proceedings in Courts of Justice Act‖ passed by Parliament of Great
Britain in 1730, this Act was considered as the ―second ostensible push to transform
legal language in England‖18, ―required that English [became] both the language of
pleadings and of the written record of cases in the law courts of the United Kingdom
of Great Britain‖19. With the purpose of making English prevailing over French and
Latin within language of the law, this was an effort to increase the clarity of legal
language at that time.
From the above information, by centuries, the demand to create a less complex legal
language seems to be undeniable.
To continue with the United Kingdom, Renton Committee Report in 1975 with
contents in relation to the improvement of legislation drafting, which partially

proposed:
My Lords, the solutions that are proposed are broadly of two kinds, relating
first to the technique of drafting itself and, secondly, to the form and layout
of Acts of Parliament. As to the technique of drafting, no doubt we all share
the view of the noble and learned Lord that the language of legislation
should be as near to ordinary speech as precision permits.20
Four years later, the Plain English Campaign (―PEC‖), which was founded by director
Chrissie Maher OBE, aimed to remove difficulties caused by legalese and overly
complicated legal regulations. By ―publicly shredded hundreds of official documents
in Parliament Square, London‖,21 Chrissie Maher OBE had left a landmark impact on
the government at that time. This campaign has been widespread and has achieved
certain success, in particular: ―[Their] Crystal Mark now appears on more than 23,000

18

Richard Powell, Language Choice in Postcolonial Law: Lessons from Malaysia‟s Bilingual Legal System, 1st
ed. 2020, published by Singapore: Springer, p. 234
https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-981-15-1173-8_10.pdf
19
Dr. Sean Cunningham, The language of Government and the power of plain English, blog,
https://history.blog.gov.uk/2017/04/19/the-language-of-government-and-the-power-of-plain-english/
20
Report of the Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, 1975,
https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1975/dec/10/renton-committee-report-on-legislation
21
The Plain English Campaign, website, http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/about-us.html

9



documents worldwide. Launched in 1990, and the first mark of its kind, the Crystal
Mark is [now] used by over 1600 organizations‖.22 This independent orgnization has
provided the public, enterprises as well as governmental authorities with professional
services regarding the plain language redrafting regarding different types of legal
document.
Also in the UK in 1983, Clarity, a worldwide organization established by legal
professionals who were ―committed to promoting plain legal language‖23, ―is now one
of the major plain language organisations, which, while retaining a focus on legal
writing, has considerably broadened its interests, and is now one of the leading
international plain language organisations, with a journal, also called Clarity.‖24
In 2009, the Local Government Association of the UK (―LGA‖) drawn up a list of 200
jargon words suggesting that ―Council leaders‖ should avoid using such words in order
that their staff can communicate effectively to the public. The LGA‘s banned list
recommends some substitutions, ―such as "measuring" for the civil servants [favorite]
"benchmarking", "idea" for "seedbed", "delay" for "slippage" and "buy" for
"procure"‖.25

IN THE U.S.
Meanwhile, in the United States, it is professor Fred Rodell, who is famous for his
opposition to traditional legal language as well as legal professionals. In 1936, he
published a critique against traditional legal language with a strong, scathing
opposition expressed in a simple and straightforward style:
There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style.
The other is its content. That, I think, about covers the ground. And though
22

The Plain English Campaign, website, http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/about-us.html
Clarity, website, https://clarity-international.net/about/
24
Johanna Stewart, Plain language: From 'movement' to 'profession', Australian Journal of Communication,

Vol. 37, No. 2, 2010, p. 52, https://search-proquestcom.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/docview/883650390/fulltextPDF/F678F74894D9461APQ/1?accountid=14205
25
Councils get banned jargon list, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7948894.stm
23

10


it is in the law reviews that the most highly regarded legal literature-and I
by no means except those fancy rationalizations of legal action called
judicial opinions-is regularly embalmed, it is in the law reviews that a
pennyworth of content is most frequently concealed beneath a pound of socalled style. The average law review writer is peculiarly able to say nothing
with an air of great importance. When I Used to read law reviews, I used
constantly to be reminded of an elephant trying to swat a fly.26
Following that, three years after, the professor kept on his attempt with the release of
the book named ―Woe Unto You, Lawyers!‖27, in which he stated his proposal relating
the amendment that any ―law that means something definite and tangible in relation to
human affairs can be written so that its meaning is plain for all to read‖28. However, it
seemed that not many law practitioners supported the idea of Fred Rodell.

Since the 1970s, several states in the U.S. have ratified some plain English regulations
and the document that ―[marked] the coming-of-age of the plain language movement
in the United States [was] the plain language consumer loan note formally
launched on 1 January 1975 by First National City Bank (now Citibank).‖

29

Influenced by Citibank‘s note, the first state statute regarding the need of plain
language of New York - the New York‘s Plain Language Law (also called the
―Sullivan Law‖) was taken into effect in November 1978. In order to protect

consumers‘ rights and obligations when entering into transactions similar to the goal of
the promissory note of Citibank, the law said that:
Every written agreement … for the lease of space to be occupied for
residential purposes, for the lease of personal property to be used primarily
26

Fred Rodell, Goodbye to Law Reviews, 1936, Yale Law School – Faculty Scholarship Series, p. 38
https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/fss_papers/2762/
27
Fred Rodel, Woe Unto You, Lawyers!, available at:
https://www.constitution.org/lrev/rodell/woe_unto_you_lawyers.htm
28
See n.26
29
Michele M. Asprey, Plain Language for Lawyers, Federation Press, 2010,Chapter 4: Plain language around
the world, p. 1

11


for personal, family or household purposes or to which a consumer is a
party and the money, property or service which is the subject of the
transaction is primarily for personal, family or household purposes must
be:
1. Written in a clear and coherent manner using words with common and
every day meanings;
2. Appropriately divided and captioned by its various sections.30
These early patterns supporting for plain language played an important role in raising
awareness of enterprises and the government about the necessity of easy-to-read and
easy-to-use communication. Remarkably, a governmental document regulating the use

of plain English in federal regulations was the Executive Order 12044: ―Improving
Government Regulations‖ signed by President Jimmy Carter on March 23, 1978.
According to this new order, ―Regulations shall be as simple and clear as possible.
They shall achieve legislative goals effectively and efficiently‖.31
In 1998, there was even an award called ―No Gobbledygook Award‖ and Marthe Kent
of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was the first one to receive this
plain English award.
Also in 1998, the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and
Agencies, which was released by President William Jefferson Clinton, included a
subject of ―Plain Language in Government Writing‖. By these documents, the
President Clinton would like to express an idea of ―[making] the Government more
responsive, accessible, and understandable in its communications with the public…
documents may include letters, forms, notices, and instructions.‖32 This notice by the
government agencies shows a need to make documents enacted by them easy for the
public to read and understand.
30

New York General Obligations Law, Section 5-702, available at:
https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/GOB/5-702
31
Executive Order 12044, Federal Register Vol. 43, p. 12661, March 24, 1978
32
William J. Clinton, Memorandum of June 1, 1998, Plain Language in Government Writing, The White House,
Washington, June 3, 1998

12


More significantly, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 which was signed by President
Barack Obama was designed to impose a regulation with the content to ―improved the

effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear
Government communication that the public can understand and use33.‖ This Act was
an outstanding enactment regarding the effort to promote the utility of plain language
within governmental legal drafting.
More recently, in 2014, the government of Minnesota – a state of the U.S.,signed the
Executive Order 14-07, in which the governor ordered their state offices and agencies
to comply some principle as follows:
• Use language commonly understood by the public;
• Write in short and complete sentences;
• Present information in a format that is easy-to-find and easy-tounderstand; and
• Clearly state directions and deadlines to the audience.34
Overall, these theories provide a clear and apparent view on the tendency of using
―Plain Language‖ in legal texts throughout the history. This also proves that the
concept of ―Plain Language‖ has flashed since the past.

33

PUBLIC LAW 111–274—OCT. 13, 2010, available at: https://www.fda.gov/media/84926/download
Executive Order 14-07 Implementing Plain Language in the Executive Branch, Executive Department, State
of Minnesota, March 4, 2014
34

13


2.3 THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAIN LANGUAGE IN LEGAL
ENGLISH TEXTS
The most important purpose of any legal document is to transfer the message to the
receivers in the most effective way, whether or not such receivers are the professional
or the public. The role of such documents in society poses a special challenge to

relevant drafters. In order to avoid obscurity, misinterpretation and assure the transfer
of technical information to multiple audiences, here are my recommendations:
● Attract your readers‘ attention
● Use a clear, simple and concise writing style
● Arrange the document logically
Legal texts traditionally contain gobbledygook35, the language seems to be designed
only for experts and lawyers rather than the other object – ordinary people who are
also involved.
In today‘s world, when people are concerned with the laws more often than ever, the
need to create reader-friendly legal documents become crucial in order that each
individual can understand and know their rights as well as their obligations correctly.
It leads to the consideration of the plain language instead of traditional legal language.
To layman, knowing laws is the main point to create a better society, therefore, it is
necessary for laws to be written in plain language to help them approach legal
knowledge. Contract, for example, is another kind of legal documents which
sometimes cause problem to the contracting parties who just partially know their rights
and duties specified in such documents due to the specialized language drafted by the
professional ones.
In this era of commercial services, consumers involved in purchasing contracts are
highly increasing, followed by a higher expectation of assurance in the relevant
35

―Gobbledygook‖ means ―Complicated language that is difficult to understand, especially when used in official
documents.‖ See Oxford Learner's Dictionaries, available at:
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/gobbledegook?q=gobbledygook

14


relationship. During the process of drafting commercial contracts, ―enhancing reading

ease may also inflate consumer expectations with regard to the performance levels of
the professional counterparty. These heightened expectations in turn can influence the
consumer‘s willingness to engage in conflict when such expectations are not met.‖36
Besides, nothing is more important than to be completely aware of what we are
involved in. Of course, these texts specify and regulate civil relations among
individuals, organizations and define conditions as well as standards of mutual
behaviors to get desired performances from each party. ―When organizations realize
how plain language can benefit them, both economically as well as in improved
consumer relations, they will be motivated to adopt plain language into their legal
writing.‖37
In respect of law study, students major in legal sphere are also struggling with
traditional legal language both in school and in internship. It takes a lot of time and
effort to gain enough knowledge on technical legal language to understand. Not only
fields of law but any majors have its own kind of language. For instance, in medical
fields we have medical terms, in engineering technology we have technical
terminologies, in computer science we have programming language, to name just a
few. However, not all of the mentioned fields are directly connected with its audiences
like in the case of law, here are mentioning an aspect of the application of legal texts to
the public.
So why should law students learn legalese during their study but in real practices, they
have to use plain language to explain or communicate with their clients? Not to
mention that even judges also need to master in explaining in plain and simple
wording style so that parties in a case can completely get the decisions supposed to be
binding on them.

36

Willem H. Van Boom & Pieter Desmet & Mark Van Dam, "If It's Easy to Read, It's Easy to Claim"--The
Effect of the Readability of Insurance Contracts on Consumer Expectations and Conflict Behaviour, the article
published by Journal of Consumer Policy, Jun 2016, Vol.39(2), p. 195-196

Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10603-016-9317-9
37
Peggy Gale Bivins, Implementing Plain Language Into Legal Documents: The Technical Communicator‟s
Role, B.A. University of Central Florida, 2005, available at:
http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0002022/Bivins_Peggy_G_200805_MA.pdf

15


In government writing, plain language seems to be a good solution to increase the
comprehension of ordinary people. Once a law is passed, it must be become wide
known when its affected subject is the community.

16


CHAPTER 3: THE APPLICATION OF PLAIN ENGLISH INTO
ACTUAL LEGAL TEXTS

In this part, we will take one step towards how plain language has been applied to
enacted legal documents.

3.1 IN THE UK
Based on a study of Catalina Riera from University of Alicante, the researcher has
made a comparison of two different Acts of the British Parliament38. The principle was
that the enactment of the first one had to be before the Plain English Movements
emerging in the UK, whereas the other was enacted after the Movement. After
considering the UK legislation from 1802 to 2015, it was the Water Acts with the first
version in 1973 and the second version in 2014. Some significant improvements were:
● The reduction of the word ―shall‖: Accounting for 1.5% of the total number

of words in the 1973 Act, ―shall” in the 2014 Act was merely 0.005%. The
table below shows how this favored word of traditional writing style was
replaced by other alternatives:
Table 1: Evolution of use of alternative modals to shall between 1973 and 2014
1973 Act

2014 Act

Total no. of words:

Total no. of words:

48,544

95,542

must

0.004%

0.34%

are to be

0.018%

0.066%

38


Catalina Riera, Plain English in Legal Language: A Comparative Study of Two UK Acts of Parliament,
Alicante Journal of English Studies 28 (2015), available at:
https://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/54183/1/RAEI_28_08.pdf

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is to be

0.043%

0.15%

● The decrease of ―shall not” and the rise of ―may not”: The utility of ―shall
not‖ in the former Act was dominant compared with ―may not‖, at 0.12%
and 0.006% respectively. The situation was reversed in the later Act, in
which ―shall not‖ appeared once while “may not‖ increased to 0.10%.
● The disappearance of prepositional adverbs: ―therein‖, ―thereon‖,
―thereunder‖, ―thereof‖, ―therewith‖, ―thereafter‖, ―thereby‖, ―hereby‖, etc.,
are archaic words found in 1973 Act. ―In sharp contrast but unsurprisingly,
the analysis reveals that in the 2014 Act there is not a single case of
prepositional adverbs.‖39
● The change to passive structure: this study found that there was not a big
gap in the frequency of passives between the 1973 Act and the one in 2014.
However, the type of passives was worth mentioning. Specifically, with the
previous Act, ―the passives with shall prevail, together with the present
simple passive and the present perfect passive‖.40 Meanwhile, ‗in the 2014
Act, the construction is/are to be + participle acquires considerable
relevance, together with passives with may and must‘.41
To sum up this first application case, it may serve to note the evolution of plain

English has been made in the 2014 Act, though other characteristics continue to follow
the traditional legal writing style. (For the original sections from the Acts, see
APPENDIX 1)

39

See n. 38
See n. 38
41
See n. 38
40

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3.2 IN THE U.S.
Here we mention Professor Joseph Kimble, who joined in the process of restyling the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence, moreover, he also
won two prestigious Burton Awards for this work. In his article ―How to mangle court
rules and jury institutions‖42, some extracts of original procedure rules and the
redrafted ones were display to indicate the effect of rewriting traditional legal rules on
comprehensibility.
The contents in the table below follow the information written in the Kimble‘s article:
Original text

Revised text

of Federal Rules of Criminal

of Federal Rules of Criminal


Procedure

Procedure

―in the absence of such consent by

―If the defendant does not

the defendant‖

consent‖

―shall not utilize that grand jury

―may use that information

material for any purpose other than

only to assist‖

assisting‖
―Nothing in this rule shall preclude

―The

parties

may


by

the taking of the deposition, orally or

agreement take and use a

upon written questions, or the use of

deposition with the court‘s

a deposition, by agreement of the

consent.‖

parties with the consent of the court.‖

42

Joseph Kimble, How to mangle court rules and jury institutions, The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing,
Annual, 2001, Vol.8, available at:
http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=4387e020-26c344bc-b7fd-e550a0aced8c%40pdc-v-sessmgr05

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In general, those minor changes to the old version did not alter the meaning but
improving the readability. The redrafted texts removed the archaic legalism ―such‖ and
―shall‖, which were unnecessarily used in order to understand the information.
Since the staff and managers in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (―SEC‖)
acknowledge the impact of plain English on the effectiveness of communication

quality between them and the public, ―A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear
SEC disclosure documents‖43 was published by the Commission with a corporate
author Office of Investor Education and Assistance in August 1998. This handbook
provides investors with well-established techniques for drafting clear and informative
disclosure documents using plain English, of course all the legal requirements must be
met before filing documents with the SEC.
By recognizing some practical problems clients have commonly encountered with this
type of documents, namely long sentences, passive voice, superfluous words, legal and
financial jargons, numerous defined terms, to name just a few, this guidebook gave
some solutions to eliminate those impediments.
The contents in the table below follow the information written in the Handbook:
Before
The

active

passive voices

and The

After
proxies

solicited You may revoke

hereby for the Heartland your proxy and
Meeting may be revoked, reclaim your right
subject to the procedures to vote up to and
described herein, at any including the day
time up to and including of the meeting by

the date of the Heartland following

the

directions on page

Meeting.

43

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure
documents, August 1998, Available at: https://www.sec.gov/pdf/handbook.pdf

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