Language that even judges don’t understand, sought on Twitter

A tweet yesterday from Prof Jo Delahunty QC:

Twitter help plz?HoL session nxt wk on legal interpreting:can u think of legal terms/turn of speech that r unintelligible even 2 lawyers?

Suggestions posted there:

Scottish law reports and odd use of Latin.
Any use of Latin
‘We are sitting on x day’ – do clients think we distinguish between standing up or not

‘Conference’ instead of meeting.

‘Shall remain in place until after c has left the jurisdiction’ but c can’t leave the jurisdiction if it’s still in place

Ex tempore, de minimis cd. esily be expressed in English.

Subtle judicial putdowns.

‘Miss X’s ambitious submission…’

‘Bold’. ambitious slightly more bitchy than bold.


In the alternative

Home Office unable to understand that ‘within 14 days’ means a fortnight – they think it means 3 months or so.

‘Proportionality’ in costs: mine are proportionate, yours are extortionate.

Double negatives and putting stuff in the passive – done to communicate nuance, but hardly plain English.

‘Forthwith’ – if you mean RIGHT NOW say so!

‘I listened to smultran of a ECJ hearing and the interpreter gave the exact opposite meaning for one word.’

Frequently words that have specific legal meaning or use but are in daily palance that cause bother, e.g. ‘robbing’.

Assault – conversion – occasioning – blackmail. I ‘submit’

And our insistence on using fancy words like ‘vernacular’ or ‘particularise’ or ‘traverse’.

Disguised compliance.

Mutatis mutandis

I don’t know if these examples are meant to be things difficult for interpreters, or for readers who aren’t lawyers.They are presumably what barristers think are confusing.

This kind of language is used by German lawyers too. I don’t find it particularly difficult to undestand becasue I think I switch my mind to that register. But I am not sure about ‘language that even judges don’t understand’.



I am told that the House of Lords meeting referred to in the tweet was the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, of which a bit more in a later post.

2 thoughts on “Language that even judges don’t understand, sought on Twitter

  1. I can’t seem to Tweet this, so I’ve just given up:

    Lawspeak may be unintelligible to some judges but not to Old School lawyers/ conveyancing solicitors (see 6 &7):
    1. contumelious delay or conduct’
    2. a deferred judgment vs. a suspended sentence
    3. (to non-English-speaking lawyers) summary vs. either-way criminal offences vs. triable on indictment only, covenants in an engrossed lease and dealings inter se
    4. sniffer-dog and motor-vehicle registration-plate ‘hearsay’ evidence
    5. background (fact-unrelated) evidence vs. (specific) similar fact evidence
    6. ‘Bespeak’ office copy entries of a registered land search (has a good ‘soliciting of a simple informative note’ equivalent in Spanish) and used up to 40 years ago. This phrase angers particularly present-day linguists and newly qualified lawyers.
    7. (UK land registration) a mortgage inhibition entered by an inhibitor against an inhibitee seeking to raise a mortgage loan
    8. Loan interest ‘rest’ periods

  2. Thanks for this. I had not heard the myth about sniffer-dog evidence being hearsay.
    One must hope that the interpreter has the guts to ask for clarification if these terms come up in court.

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