The English jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham defined the language of lawyers as “literary garbage.” He argued that plain legal language is essential for proper governance. This idea of simplicity of legal texts was the pillar on which the Plain English Movement was founded in the United States, which became a part of the movement of consumer protection that was developed in 1970. The objective of this movement is to encourage a process of modernisation of legal language which focuses on simplifying phrasing for the purposes of comprehension.
In legal documents that are intended for the ordinary citizen, not legal professionals, the language must be precise from the legal standpoint, but it should be “easy to understand and simple.” In these documents, the text must be understood by a person who is not trained in legal matters, so that when they are signed, the people involved know what they are signing.
By 1951, the British official Sir Ernest Gowers had written two short books, now combined in one, The Complete Plain Words. This is a guide to achieving an accessible style, to say what needs to be said clearly, succinctly and correctly and keep the language clear, flexible and responsive to the constant pressure of the world.
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