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News & views

Judge blasts ‘mind-numbing’ legalese

[9 Jan 2012] It’s often claimed that judges prefer legalese to plain language; but there are plenty who don’t. During a recent case in Tasmania, the appeal court had to interpret a local authority’s planning scheme (which sets out policies and rules for the use and protection of land). After describing several clauses in the scheme as ‘mind-numbing’, Justice Blow said:

‘The planning scheme is very complex, and exceedingly and unnecessarily difficult to comprehend or interpret. Most ordinary people would not have a chance. Most sensible people, or people with a life, would not attempt the task unless they had absolutely no choice. In order to determine how the scheme operates in relation to the appellant’s proposed development, it is practically essential to have a law degree, decades of experience in interpreting legal documents, a talent for understanding gobbledygook and misused words, a lot of time, and a very strong capacity for perseverance.’

We recently helped a non-native speaker to understand the obligations he’d accepted when signing a business lease. This extract from it gives a flavour of what many lawyers still regard as acceptable English.

‘In each of the Decorating Years and in the last year of the Term to redecorate all inside parts of the premises and all additions thereto (where previously or usually painted) with two coats at least of good quality paint and at the same time and in like manner to varnish paper plaster and emulsion or otherwise treat all such parts as shall theretofore have been so treated any such painting or treatment to be done in a workmanlike manner and with appropriate materials of good quality to the reasonable satisfaction of the Surveyor the tints and colours and patterns of such decoration to be approved by the Landlord provided that the covenants relating to the last year of the Term shall not apply where the Tenant shall have redecorated the Premises less than 12 months prior to the expiry of the Term’

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