Centuries of obscure legal jargon abolished

New Letter Of The Law
Click to follow
CENTURIES OF baffling legal terminology will be laid to rest next week in one of the biggest shake-ups in civil court history.

From Monday, people bringing cases will be known as claimants not "plaintiffs" while a "writ" will become a claim form. Lay people will no longer have to struggle with baffling Latin words and phrases in an already confusing legal system. The changes, part of the "big bang" in civil legal procedure, are being driven by the Lord Chancellor's Department after recommendations from Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls.

A spokesman for the department said: "This will make the law easier to follow, taking out the more difficult language and replacing it with words and phrases which people can understand." He likened the problem to receiving a quote from a plumber or builder where those inexperienced in such matters tended to go along with the technical detail without really understanding what is being proposed. As an illustration he added: "People don't like declaring that they don't understand something, so that when a lawyer says they have to sign an affidavit [a written statement in the new language] they agree without knowing what it is."

Chrissie Maher, founder director of the Plain English Campaign, has been lobbying for 30 years to get the courts to simplify their language. Two thousand Plain English members will be in court on Monday to make sure that the lawyers stick to the new language. Ms Maher said many people who spent years involved in litigation could not understand the outcome of their case because it was told to them in legal jargon. She said: "It's humiliating for people who have to pay for the privilege of listening to lawyers." And she added: "It cannot stop here, the criminal courts must change now."

Monday's changeover includes new procedures which will allow court users a "fast-track" option for small cases and a more hands-on approach by the judges aimed at saving time and money.

Ian Magee, chief executive of the Court Service, said: "We hope the civil justice reforms will make courts easier to use. The replacement of legal and Latin terms with plain English phrases is part and parcel of that process. Many current terms are confusing and difficult to understand for people who do not use courts regularly and we hope the new phrases will help people follow proceedings more easily."

For the first time, all 226 county courts in England and Wales will be closed tomorrow to allow installation of software to accommodate the new vocabulary and the other changes.

Ian Walker, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said that while he welcomed the reforms he thought Monday would cause many problems for lawyers not fully acquainted with the new procedures. "It's all very well expecting us to be proactive and dynamic but if the technology can't deal with the changes then there will be problems."

Some lawyers have expressed sadness at the end of a language they have spent all their working lives getting to understand. But there will be a period of grace for those who find difficulty in breaking old habits and cannot adjust immediately to speaking in plain English.

Plaintiff - Claimant.

Writ - Claim form.

Pleading - Statement of case.

Discovery - Disclosure of evidence.

Leave of the court - Permission of the court.

Minor/infant - Child.

In camera - Private.

Subpoena - Witness summons.

Anton Pillar - Order to search premises.

Mareva injunction - Order to freeze a company's assets.

Inter partes - On notice of a hearing.

Ex parte - Without notice of the hearing.