STRAIGHTFORWARD LANGUAGE IS BEST: MISSIVE FROM THE BENCH: LAYWYERS MAY HAVE IMPROVED OVER TIME – OTHERS HAVE NOT

In Secretary of State for Business Energy And Industrial Strategy v Evans & Anor [2020] EWHC 3519 (Ch) (18 December 2020) Deputy Insolvency and Companies Court Judge Baister had something to say about the absence of plain language in the worlds of administration and regulation.

THE CASE

The judge heard, and dismissed,  an application for disqualification orders against the defendants.

THE USE OF LANGUAGE

The judge had something to say about the use of language in this particular field of regulation.

  1. My second is about the use of language. In the 1980s Staughton J pleaded with lawyers and judges to abandon the old fashioned and obscure language of the law and to write in plain English, as most judges now at least try to do. That trend has been met by a countervailing trend in the world of administration and regulation to write in an increasingly obscure style, often using superfluous words or words of uncertain meaning. The word “thematic” used for a review or assessment, for example, seems to add nothing to the noun “review,” just as describing a summary as an “executive summary” rarely implies more than is conveyed by the simple noun the word “executive” precedes. The expression “high level” used by the FCA gave rise to a lively debate about what it might mean. I thought it meant “of a high standard” or “thorough” or something like that, but that meaning did not work in the context in which it was used; Ms Jones thought it might refer to something carried out by a senior member of staff. Legal cases often involve poring over the meaning of words (and in this case even punctuation). The more straightforward the language the better, is the general rule in my view. If any regulators do in fact read this judgment I would ask them to note and act on my plea for them to use ordinary, plain English wherever possible.