MY LORDSHIP, WHY SUCH COMPLICATED LEGAL LANGUAGE?
Author: Nehil Bhatnagar, II year of B.A.LL.B. from Hidayatullah National Law University
Like other professions, we also have our “terms of the art” – these are our special technical words that carry a specific meaning. That is shorthand language for us. Most of the words have more than one meaning attached to them. Apart from the dictionary meanings, words often assume the nature and meaning as per the use of the author. One cannot just fit the words in between a sentence without looking at the contextual and intended meaning of the word. That is the beauty of language, it requires the use of cognitive thinking.
The legal language optimises the comprehension of words by decreasing the repetitive use of cognitive thinking. The method it adopts is by fixing specific meaning to certain words. E.g., motion; for a common man it means any movement or locomotion but for the lawyer is means an application filled to bring a lawsuit in the court of law. The meanings run at cross junctions with the vocabulary of an ordinary man and therefore, the legal language seems difficult to understand. Anyone who wants to understand it will have to first learn a dictionary of legal terms and understand its vocabulary and terminology.
While people argue that there is a need to simplify the legal language, they don’t understand that it is already simplified in its area. It would be like asking French to become easier to understand by simplifying itself. Although it is evident that legal language is not fully optimised and there is still a vast opportunity and requirement to make it simpler and easy to understand. Even though there is a need of simplifying the legal language but it is not feasible because the whole system would have to undergo a systematic change and this will take up a lot of time and energy. The time and energy used are after the majority of people have agreed to take up the change and that would be very difficult to achieve because people generally resist change, like inertia.
Busy lawyers with heavy workloads don’t have that time, so they reuse existing templates from older, similar documents, which perpetuates the complicated language their classes had intended them to breakthrough. People like to go with the flow of the river, wherever the river might be going or whatever its course maybe.
The call to simplify legal language is not to shake the base of philosophical law but to ease it up and give it a lighter and better version. The revolution should start from the very basic and daily usage of law which can be contracted. E.g., we all use various services available on the internet but rarely read full ‘terms and agreements’ and click yes on it. There is no reason to fulfil the agreement with complex words such as, herein, aforesaid etc. to make it further complex. The difficulty in understanding it would result in non-compliance. Nobody likes their contract to be breached. Therefore, agreements should be made in lucent language so that both the parties know their rights, duties and obligations upon breach.
The complexity of contracts has led to the difficulty of doing business and business person need lawyers all the time to interpret the meaning of each word. This may naturally but if we change the scenario to contract between worker and master. The worker can't engage a lawyer for understanding the contract neither he has the money nor the time for the same. To be clear, I’m not talking about “simplified” agreements with fewer words, better headings, and cleaner fonts. I’m talking about a contract that a high schooler could understand with zero context or explanation. Because the main parties to the contract should understand the contract better than their lawyers.
Hence, lawyers are recognised for their legal jargon-filled language but it is purposeful. The reason is that lawyers need to be specific about which thing they are arguing upon and what result they want from the argument. While it is also useless to keep such an arsenal of words if they are not effective in conveying their message. Therefore, there is the budding requirement of simple legal language in some areas and surely people will find the legal language as effective and simple. It is imperative to have a legal language that is understood even by the common man which will root out all the problems created by definitions in layman terms. The legal world is not something confined to the courtroom, it is the justice delivery system of the whole state, thus the whole of the state should be integrated.