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The generosity of plain English

court ruling plain englishRed Pony’s business writing trainer describes plain English writing as ‘putting the extra work in so your reader doesn’t have to’. Putting that extra effort in is an act of generosity towards your reader – it’s a kindness.

Recently I came across a judge’s ruling on a child custody case that has been lauded for its use of plain English. The children in this case were 10 and 12 years old, and the judge wanted to make sure they could read and understand the ruling themselves. He clearly put an enormous amount of effort into explaining a complicated situation in a simple way, without simplifying the facts. The kindness and generosity of this act genuinely moved me.

First, he gives them context for how these decisions are made.

7. Children are not taken away from their parents simply because the parents have lied about something. Even if they do tell lies they can still be good enough parents.

8. People can tell lies about some things and still tell the truth about other things.

9. Also, children are not taken away because parents are rude or difficult or because they have strange views, even if those views offend people. The only reason to take children away is because they need protecting from harm.

And continues to offer reassurance as he gets into the difficult specifics of the case:

15. I haven’t met the children, but I have been told good things about them by their mum and their dads, and also by their teachers and by their social worker K and their Guardian M. I know that the children are loved and have been well looked after in many ways. Everyone says that the mother deserves praise for that.

16. But there is more to being a parent than that. You have to make good plans for your children. You have to know what is right for them and be strong enough to try to make it happen. You have to protect your children from bad influences.

17. I’m afraid that in that way the mother has not been a good parent.

(Read the rest here.)

The best interests of the children should always be the first priority when making a custody ruling, and the judge has taken that to mean not only that they should be removed from their parents, but that they should know why it is happening and the thinking behind it. I imagine this would also go far to prevent kids from troubled backgrounds feeling alienated from the justice system. And who knows what good could flow from that?

Like I say, I was moved.

As a contrast, I present this excerpt from a 2016 ruling on a defamation case:

This batch of writ petitions preferred under Article 32 of the Constitution of India exposits cavil in its quintessential conceptuality and percipient discord between [the] venerated and exalted right of freedom of speech and [the] expression of an individual, exploring manifold and multilayered, limitless, unbounded and unfettered spectrums, and the controls, restrictions and constrictions, under the assumed power of “reasonableness” ingrained in the statutory provisions relating to criminal law to reviver and uphold one’s reputation.

The second judge has used a much wider, more ‘educated’ vocabulary, but who do you respect more?

See also:

Photo: Justice Peter Jackson