Clear communication makes it easier to understand the law

Complex language prevents people taking part in society, especially people with low literacy.

That’s why 26TEN is working with the Faculty of Law at the University of Tasmania and the Law Society of Tasmania to build momentum for using plain English.

“When we don’t use plain English, we make it even harder for people who have difficulty reading and writing to understand their rights and responsibilities,” said Anita Planchon, Manager of Literacy Services, LINC Tasmania.

“That’s why the Faculty of Law at the University of Tasmania, the Law Society of Tasmania and 26TEN are presenting the case for plain English in the law at a panel discussion on Friday, 5 May.

“We are bringing together the Hon Michael Kirby AC, well-known former judge, Hamish Locke, the State and Practice Manager of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community Legal Centre, and Rowena Holder, the President of the Guardianship and Administration Board in Tasmania.

“They will talk about the importance of communicating clearly, which is something they know about first-hand.”

Evidence shows that using plain English boosts social justice, making it easier for people to comply with the law, understand their responsibilities and make better decisions.

“It’s important that lawyers write and speak in a way that supports their clients and that they also check their clients’ understanding. That’s the role of the lawyer,” Mr Locke said. 

“Sometimes clients do not understand information they are given by their lawyers, but are reluctant to say so. Often clients will nod and say ‘yes’ even if they don’t understand because they are embarrassed or overwhelmed.

“Being in the legal system can feel unnerving, but the consequences of not understanding can have a huge impact on their lives.” 

Ms Holder agreed, saying that clear communication is a human rights issue. “Access to the law is a human right and being able to understand the laws in your community is vital. That’s why we take communication seriously at the Guardianship and Administration Board," she said.

“We want to engage in clear and meaningful communication with members of the community who are accessing services or appearing before the Board.”

Plain English is about communicating with readers and listeners in a language they understand, whether they are specialists, colleagues, friends or clients.

Understanding this is even more important for vulnerable people and the 48 per cent of Tasmanian adults who struggle with everyday literacy.