The case for plain language is compelling. Plain language advocates consider legalese to be outmoded and undemocratic People are entitled to understand the laws that bind them and detail their rights and obligations.
To be legible, legal writing must be logically organized as well as concise. The Napoleonic Code, introduced more than two centuries ago, was a model of clarity and conciseness compared to today’s laws. The average sentence included between 15 and 25 words.
Some countries are again trying to simplify how their laws are written. Australia’s tax laws, for example, now include graphs, charts and tables to assist readers. Plain language advocates in Canada would like to see something similar adopted here.
In the meantime, a number of plain language legal information tools have gained popularity in recent years. One of the most successful is Éducaloi, a website that informs Quebecers of their rights and obligations by providing legal information in everyday language, from tenants’ rights to estate matters. Though they first scoffed at the site’s utility, lawyers are now among Educaloi’s most enthusiastic repeat users.
Nimonik is doing the same with environmental legislation, by organizing legal requirements thematically and giving clear explanations on each of them. At Nimonik we struggle daily with the challenge of writing in a way that is technically accurate and understandable. Even so, it’s important we keep at it. A system of laws that its citizens cannot understand will hardly ensure the respect of the rule of law.