26TEN, plain English and the law
We know that complex and bureaucratic language is a barrier to taking part in society, especially for people with low literacy. That’s why 26TEN is working with organisations from the legal sector, such as the law faculty at the University of Tasmania and the Law Society of Tasmania so that their access to law improves.
We do this by encouraging organisations to use plain English. We want all professionals to speak and write in a way that their clients can understand.
We also want people working in this sector to know where they can refer someone to get the help they need to improve their skills.
Plain English boosts social justice
Evidence shows that using plain English boosts social justice because it makes it easier for people to comply, understand their responsibilities and make better decisions. It increases the chances that everyone will understand your message, including adults who have difficulty reading.
Plain English is not about dumbing down information for the reader.
It is about communicating with your readers in language they understand, whether they are specialists, colleagues, friends or clients.
The legal sector is represented by Tim Tierney on the 26TEN Coalition
What's been happening?
In 2018, we have already presented information on Plain English to legal support team members as part of the Law Society's professional development program. We are also working with the Magistrates Court to deliver plain English training that supports their staff.
We have also delivered 140 copies of Communicate Clearly: A Guide To Plain English, to the UTAS Faculty of Law for 2018's first year law students. This supports work we did with Faculty members in 2017 to build skills in plain English and to provide support to embed these skills in course work.
In March 2017, 26TEN presented at the Law Society’s Commercial Property and Law Conference titled Literacy Awareness, Plain English and the law. The session included activities to enable participants to experience first-hand what it feels like for people with low literacy and numeracy skills when accessing professional services and provided some practical tips on identifying and assisting clients with low literacy skills.
In May 2017 we joined with the Law Society and Faculty of Law to present a panel discussion titled Write for the people: Plain English and the law, featuring Michael Kirby AC, CMG, Australian jurist and academic and former Justice of the High Court of Australia and attended by about 100 people.
Which would you rather read?
Dear Mr Smith,
We refer to your letter of even date and confirm your instructions to commence proceedings forthwith.
that regard please find enclosed a draft application and affidavit of
yourself. Please peruse the documents carefully and advise us of any
amendments that need to be made.
As soon as we receive your
confirmation that the draft documents are to your satisfaction we will
file the application in court. We also request that you return the
executed client agreement at your earliest convenience and deposit the
sum of $1,000 into our trust account.
In the interim, if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Dear Mr Smith,
I have received your letter where you ask me to take your matter to court immediately.
enclose the draft court documents. Please let me know if there is
anything in the documents that you would like me to change. I will then
file the documents in court.
Please send the signed client agreement to me when you can and deposit $1,000 in the firm’s trust account.
If you have any questions please contact me
Source: Grace Lawson, Barrister, Plain English for Lawyers