That legal texts are generally considered difficult to read and understand stems from the law's societal functions of control and regulation. In order to provide a firm foundation for legal decision-making processes, which have to be systematic and just, the text of the law needs to be clear, explicit, and precise. It is only to be expected that such strict conditions will impose equally strict requirements on the design of the language of legal texts. Legal syntax is distinctly idiosyncratic in terms of both the structure and arrangement of the principal sentence elements. When we look at legal language above the level of the sentence, we are concerned with the level of discourse. This article addresses the language of legal texts with special reference to their grammar and structure, focusing on written legal texts as materializations of the language of the legal code, a term that is here used to refer to the law as embraced in legal statutes. As far as legal language is concerned, the article considers acts of the British Parliament.
A discipline that might eventually become known as ‘plain language studies’ is beginning to emerge through the collaboration of individual plain language proponents (plainers for short). In 2008, the two main international umbrella organizations (Clarity and PLAIN) and the Center for Plain Language in the United States set up a joint working group to develop what they hoped would eventually become internationally recognized professional standards and accreditation. Law is only one aspect of the plain legal language movement; some plainers promote plain medicine, others plain government, plain technical writing, plain finance, and plain scientific papers. Some legal plainers are linguists, writers, editors, or legal translators. Some are practising lawyers who write plainly for their clients. This article provides a brief history of the plain legal language movement, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using plain language to write legal documents, and examines attitudes to plain legal language. Finally, it considers plain language drafting techniques and presents an example of traditional writing made plain.