Whether you take the view that legal jargon is an integral part of the culture inside the justice system, or offers an efficient labelling tool for the speedy processing of information, law is no longer a selective world but a communal one; and everyone wants to speak the language.
Blame the internet and a growing social conscience online, but simplifying language in law has been one of the defining phenomena for the UK justice system in the twenty-first century. For Family Courts at least, coming into contact with parents, children and extended family members who are not trained to deal in family law jargon, pressure to change the way we use language has contributed to wide-scale reform. The most notable to date, Mr Justice Ryder's recommendations for modernising the family justice system
, included looking at the way terms and phrases were being used and seeing how we could break those down and make them easier to understand. Despite this, much of the language still used in court and by lawyers and other professionals inside the justice system remains unnecessarily complex.
Litigants in Person (LIP) continue to struggle with terminology inside the courts, with judges reporting
delays inside their courtrooms as a result, and more time spent explaining phrases and processes. Sadly, the current guidelines
seem to have done very little to address this problem, perhaps in large part due to the fact that legal jargon exists before and after the court process, with very little help for LIPs during those in-between moments when they are effectively without support.
And it's not just the courts' use of language which causes difficulties. Language used inside state-run bodies like care homes also needs to change. A recent piece in the Guardian
written by a children's rights worker outlines the impact poorly thought-out language has on children. Instead of living in a 'house' or 'home', they have to cope with terms like 'on site', and 'menu planner' rather than 'meal' or 'dinner'. It's such a simple thing, but words like these can make the difference between a child feeling supported or completely separated from the world around them. The article points out a potential source for persisting jargon: a defensive working culture which looks to minimise risk. As the author puts it, 'not on my watch'.
This risk adverse culture has had a profound effect on the way words are used inside the child welfare sector. But it's not just scandals like Baby Peter or Victoria Climbie which have caused corners of the sector to react defensively in every day practice; it is an unrelenting balancing act involving management teams, goal-orientated culture and less than adequate child protection training.