Plain English: A Judge’s journey into the unknown by Jason Hadden MBE

Legal commentators are rightly excited by the judgment of Mr. Justice Peter Jackson in Lancashire County Council v M [2016] EWFC 9 and others, due to its use of plain English. The judgment is clear, concise and very easy to read. These were care proceedings concerning four children, in which there was a concern that the father of the youngest two children might take them to Syria. The judgment has been kept as short as possible so that the mother and her older children could follow it.

What is perhaps so surprising is that this use of plain English is not more common. Particularly when the Plain English Campaign was set up almost 40 years ago with a campaign against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information. Certainly, no place for legalese. Some might even suggest that a plain English campaign is completely at odds with everything that lawyers stand for. But when many of us now only communicate in 140 characters or less perhaps it is finally time for lawyers to recognise and even embrace this the new world.

This type of judgment is long overdue. I appreciate that there is a balance to be struck between setting out the legal test, the analysis and indeed the basis for the judgment; but in care cases there also needs to be recognition of the parties involved and their understanding. Decisions made in care proceedings are life changing; for both the adults and the children. I have often sat with clients who comprehend the odd word here and there, in dare I say, somewhat long-winded judgments: listening patiently and desperately simply to know if their children are coming home or not. Where more and more litigants are facing court without the assistance of legal representatives it imperative that more tribunals keep it as simple as Mr. Justice Peter Jackson.

Author: Jason Hadden MBE