Speak clearly, Mr. Judge | Profile

“She has just received a letter in which she supposes that they ask her to pay or to leave, but she does not understand,” says Martín Bohmer in a TED talk. What she does know is that there are two messages. “The first, I hired a lawyer, the conflict escalated”; the second, “you are outside the language of the law because the language belongs to the lawyers and the judges, but not to you.”

For these and many other cases it is that different professionals from the legal community, linguists, specialists in letters and communication work to close distances between people and that everyone understands. Just to make use of plain language.

What did he say? Mariana Bozetti, professor at the Torcuato Di Tella University (UTDT) and member of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Clear Language Observatory of the UBA Law School, explains to PERFIL that, if a communication piece is analyzed from the legal field, “Due to the lexical features we see that it is addressed to a supposed specialist, because terminology is used that is not contextualized, not reformulated, that is not explained and takes for granted information that does not appear. It is considered that the recipient has the same knowledge and information as the person preparing the document, when in reality this cannot be the case”.

In this sense, the professor argues that there is “the need to modify the way the judiciary communicates in writing what it does, to interact in writing with the public.” For this, the notion of clear language arises, so that the person can directly understand what situation he is in with respect to the right, the accusation, the fault, etc.

For Mónica Graiewski, lawyer and teacher and member of clear language organizations, “clear language is above all a matter of empathy. It is to think who is going to read it. I have a client who is a nuclear physicist and he is very intelligent, but perhaps a judicial officer does not understand him and it is not that he does not know, but that he is not clear ”.

“Language clarity is good for everyone,” says Graiewski, because “it saves steps. If I present something that is not understood, for example, in court, the judge can reject what is requested. Also, it saves the time it takes to make decisions about things that are not fully understood. And save conflicts. When one has to use the contract that they established two years ago, they have to hire another lawyer because at the time they explained it to them, but now it is difficult to understand ”, he exemplifies.

A little history. The judge of the Misdemeanor Criminal Court No. 13 Lorena Tula del Moral tells PERFIL that the clear language movement arose internationally in Europe in the 70s, it developed in some countries such as England and Sweden and later in other European countries . In Latin America it was implemented later and in the particular case of Argentina Tula del Moral points out that there were and are different initiatives. “Although it is an obligation for all the powers of the states – Executive, Legislative and Judicial – there is more development in the use and implementation of clear language within the judicial powers.”

Thus, he recalls that in 2015 the Argentine Legal Information System (SAIJ), which reports to the Ministry of Justice, began working on clear laws and “in 2017 the Clear Language Network was formed in Argentina,” Graiewski told PERFIL. “This initiative was tripartite between the Ministry of Justice, the National Senate and the Legal and Technical Secretariat of the Presidency,” he specified.

Tula del Moral highlights that “at the legislative level in Argentina, the Province of Buenos Aires was the first to give a regulatory and mandatory framework for the use of clear language through Law 15,184, to guarantee the right of all citizens to understand the public information, promote the use and development of clear language in both legal and formal texts”.

There are also other initiatives, such as “in the provinces of Chaco, Formosa, La Pampa where they already have manuals or guides so that the resolutions of all lower instances are written in the use of language.”

In the case of the City of Buenos Aires, different concrete actions are implemented from the Judicial Council. Thus, “in 2021, Law 6,367 was enacted, which promotes the use of clear language in the acts and documents of the Public Sector of the City to guarantee the transparency of government acts,” says the lawyer.

Also from The Clear Language Observatory of the Faculty of Law at the Buenos Aires University (UBA), where the judge is the academic director, training and working with “future generations so that they can have this new look because, ultimately, We are providing a Justice service and the idea is to guarantee citizens the right to understand”.

To conclude, Graiewski acknowledges that “in the beginning, clear language was rejected by the legal community because it chose to be tacky. Now it is understood and is more accepted and sought after because it is believed that using clear language is not the same as avoiding formal rigor”.

Colombia: In search of eloquence

Paulina Yepes Villegas* and German Arenas Arias**

A Colombian intellectual and former magistrate of the Constitutional Court (Carlos Gaviria Díaz) believed that “the violation of pretentious, vacuous and inconsequential texts were an evil of underdevelopment.” In a country where insipid verbiage abounds, Carlos knew the importance of silence and simplicity. Reading his sentences, for example, is attending an act of concretion and clarity that are still missing; his main quality, eloquence, is frequently reviewed in the book Close Virtues. To a certain extent, the implementation of clear language initiatives in Colombia seeks to ensure that the messages issued by public and private entities are also eloquent.

We probably state the general framework in which some of the most representative initiatives in our country are found and justified. The IV National Open State Plan of Colombia already includes commitments in terms of clear language to disseminate judicial functions and decisions and, with this, broaden citizen knowledge of the problems of the State. From the Congress of the Republic, made up of the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, they claim that the dissemination of the regulations in a clear and understandable language for the greatest number of citizens acquire good opportunities to promote social behaviors with attachment and respect to the State of Right.

In the educational field, from the Eafit University, to cite just one example, we promulgate clear writing courses for students, who later go out as professionals to produce texts that reach citizens, and for organizations that want to implement good clarity practices in their work teams. In addition, we investigate clear language practices to strengthen the field of study on the subject.

All these intentions reside in public and private institutions that are part, in turn, of the Clear Language Network of Colombia. A group in which we are convinced that clear language facilitates processes, speeds up procedures, reduces stress and encourages transparency.

We also believe that this issue should not only be of interest to those who create public documents. As citizens we all face administrative, legal, commercial and medical documents that we must understand in order to make use of the information and make decisions. Clear language should matter to all of us, whether we are writers, speakers, readers or listeners, because only in this way can we guarantee that the information that circulates and that is accessible to all can be used for the purpose it was generated.

Our purpose is to promulgate the communication of eloquent messages to convince, eloquent to instruct on public affairs, mainly, and eloquent to increase the opportunities of citizens to understand and mature public information and of general interest.

*Teacher, EAFIT University.

**Predoctoral researcher at the University of Alcalá.

Spain: slowly, but we are making progress

Cristina Carretero González*

One of the most relevant actions, almost a turning point, occurred in 2009, in the Ministry of Justice, with the creation of the Commission for the Modernization of Legal Language. This resulted in a Report that made recommendations to improve the clarity and understanding of legal production, especially that related to courts and jurists.

Subsequently, the Commission for the Clarity of Legal Language was created, which carried out various works directed from the Ministry of Justice, but which did not advance beyond these.

For some time now, the actions carried out by the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) have stood out, some of them in close collaboration with other institutions. One was the elaboration, together with numerous institutions, of the Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Legal Spanish. Another, the drafting of the Legal Justice Style Book, which was born, in 2017, as a result of the agreement between the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) and the RAE and as a complement to the Spanish Dictionary (DEJ), published in 2016 as well. by the RAE and the CGPJ. The objective of the style book has been to contribute to the good use of language in all the limits where legal law is created and applied and to be able, in this way, to elaborate texts destined to improve the language of clarity. In my opinion, it is a great reference style book that is recommended.

Beyond individual initiatives, which are on the rise – and from academia to different professionals and institutions – current challenges focus on the idea of ​​bringing communication between citizens and State powers closer together, so that it is fluid and simple. to understand. To do this, I highlight several interesting initiatives.

Last February, a collaboration agreement was made between the Ombudsman and the RAE itself to achieve clear and accessible language in the Administration. Both institutions have decided to undertake actions aimed at ensuring that public administrations use accessible language in their communications with citizens. To do this, the RAE must identify best linguistic practices and propose the corresponding solutions. Subsequently, the Ombudsman will address the Administrations to try to materialize the proposals in clear and accessible language.

The last step, very relevant in my opinion because of the fruits it can bring about, is the signing, in Santiago de Chile on June 9, of the agreement to create a Pan-Hispanic Clear Language Network (Red-PHLEC). As reported by the RAE, it is a project that has the support of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) from the presidency of the Association of Spanish Language Academies (Asale). The laudable objective of the new Network is to unite the different initiatives on clear and accessible language that are developed in the Spanish-speaking world. This objective proposes to improve relations between public powers and citizens through the promotion of linguistic understanding and the necessary commitment of the authorities to ensure it in all areas of public life. Without this commitment, little progress will be made.

For this reason, in these initiatives, it remains to know how the proposals will be carried out, which institutions will be committed, what actions will be carried out and how their results will be evaluated. The path is tracing, it remains to walk it.

*Professor of Procedural Law and of Legal Publication and Writing at the Faculty of Law of the Comillas Pontifical University, Madrid.

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