Kangaroo court

Boris Johnson called the House of Commons Privileges Committee a kangaroo court. In fact, the term seems to be frequently used. It wasn’t part of my vocabulary and I wondered what it had to do with kangaroos. Apparently the origin is not certain, but it may have to do with leaping over the official route of something, or of an impromptu court moving from place to place.

Here is the Oxford English Dictionary on the term:

kangaroo court  n. originally U.S. an improperly constituted court having no legal standing, e.g. one held by strikers, mutineers, prisoners, etc.

1853   ‘P. Paxton’Stray Yankee in Texas 205   By a unanimous vote, Judge G—— was elected to the bench and the ‘Mestang’ or ‘Kangaroo Court’ regularly organized.
1895   Harper’s Mag. Apr. 718/2   The most interesting of these impromptu clubs is the one called in the vernacular the ‘Kangaroo Court’. It is found almost entirely in county jails.
1931   ‘D. Stiff’Milk & Honey Route 209   Kangaroo court, mock court held in jail for the purpose of forcing new prisoners to divide their money.
1935   A. J. PollockUnderworld Speaks 66/1   Kangaroo Court, a jail tribunal comprised of inmates which collects money from prisoners awaiting trial to supply the needy with tobacco, food and a few luxuries—its decision regarding disputes is final.
1966   Times 14 Mar. 10/1   Shop stewards at Theale are to meet tomorrow to consider paying back the sums levied by a kangaroo court.
1971   Times 20 Jan. 15/3   Citizens who live in the riotous areas [of N. Ireland] deserve protection from..kangaroo courts.
1973   C. MullardBlack Brit.iii. vii. 81   Such practices are surely more like those of a kangaroo court than those that the Race Relations Board should encourage.
Note the term mustang court in the first citation.That’s about animals too. There were not many kangaroos in the USA but according to Wikipedia there were a lot of Australians in California in the gold rush.

Englisch als Vertragssprache/Zieltexter.de

I have mentioned the book Englisch als Vertragssprache by Triebel and Vogenauer before. I have now found a detailed description by Annika Kunstmann in German in Zieltexter.de:

Das Buch „Englisch als Vertragssprache“ von Dr. Volker Triebel und Prof. Stefan Vogenauer, erschienen 2018 im Verlag C. H. Beck, München, beschäftigt sich mit englischsprachigen Verträgen und der Erkenntnis, dass solche gerade bei Geltung deutschen Rechts zu mehr Missverständnissen, Fehlerquellen und Fallstricken führen können, als dies bei deutschen Vertragstexten der Fall ist.

There is more.

Zieltexter.de is an online publication by ADÜ Nord, following the closure of the print Infoblatt. I missed Richard Schneider’s announcement at uepo.de.

Even lawyers do not like legalese

Even lawyers do not like legal language according to this article.

I found the reference through a colleague who subscribes to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (thanks, Marisa!) and quoted this, from 31.05.2023:

Warum so kompliziert?

Von Sibylle Anderl

Wer Texte von Anwälten liest, ist hinterher selten schlauer. Die Motivation dahinter haben nun US-Forscher entschlüsselt.

Wie naiv die Vorstellung ist, menschliche Sprache diene stets dem möglichst reibungsfreien Austausch von Informationen zwischen Sender und Empfänger, illustriert wohl kaum etwas besser als die Ausdrucksweise von Juristen. Das Missverständnis, dem Leser solle im juristischen Schriftverkehr Verständnis ermöglicht werden, ist meist nach wenigen Worten vom Tisch. Die Gründe dafür sind gut erforscht: Der Trick liegt in der Kombination von Schachtelsätzen mit unüblichen Fachtermini. …

The article referred to appeared in PNAS: Even lawyers do not like legalese (paywall but I paid the $10). Here’s the abstract:

Across modern civilization, societal norms and rules are established and communicated largely in the form of written laws. Despite their prevalence and importance, legal documents have long been widely acknowledged to be difficult to understand for those who are required to comply with them (i.e., everyone). Why? Across two preregistered experiments, we evaluated five hypotheses for why lawyers write in a complex manner. Experiment 1 revealed that lawyers, like laypeople, were less able to recall and comprehend legal content drafted in a complex “legalese” register than content of equivalent meaning drafted in a simplified register. Experiment 2 revealed that lawyers rated simplified contracts as equally enforceable as legalese contracts, and rated simplified contracts as preferable to legalese contracts on several dimensions–including overall quality, appropriateness of style, and likelihood of being signed by a client. These results suggest that lawyers who write in a convoluted manner do so as a matter of convenience and tradition as opposed to an outright preference and that simplifying legal documents would be both tractable and beneficial for lawyers and nonlawyers alike.

The text types referred to are contracts and statutes (judgments and correspondence are my favourites though).

I wondered what the German Schachtelsätze referred to specifically. It seems the villain is the centre-embedded clause (“leading to long-distance syntactic dependencies”), which I hadn’t heard of but does seem similar to the convoluted German sentences.

The authors cited five hypotheses as to why lawyers write in a more complex manner than they themselves would prefer:

1. Curse of knowledge hypothesis – curse of knowledge is assuming other people know as much as you do and so failing to explain enough.

2. Copy-and-paste hypothesis – when you are putting a contract together, you use archaic clauses by copying them rather than amending or adapting them. I suppose that cut and paste predates word processing.

From Wikipedia:
The term “cut and paste” comes from the traditional practice in manuscript-editings whereby people would cut paragraphs from a page with scissors and paste them onto another page. This practice remained standard into the 1980s. Stationery stores sold “editing scissors” with blades long enough to cut an 8½”-wide page. The advent of photocopiers made the practice easier and more flexible.

I hadn’t heard of editing scissors, an exciting term.

3. In-Group signalling hypothesis: signalling to other lawyers that you’re part of the tribe, sounding more “lawyerly”.

4. It’s just business hypothesis: writing in a convoluted way to preserve your monopoly on legal services and justify your fees.

5. Complexity of information hypothesis: thinking that law is so complex that only complex language can do justice to it.

Most of these hypotheses are debunked in the article, but the copy-and-paste idea seems to stand up.It’s a problem for translators since you are translating for someone who doesn’t really understand what they wrote.

Here is an example of contract language in tradition legalese (left) and simpler language (right), highlighting the differences:

No participant saw those paired versions – the traditional and simpler versions did not match. There are details of how the study was recruited for and conducted. See the article for these. For example, in one experiment, 60% of participants identified as male, 38% as non-White. Lawyers were further categorized, for example 50% were coded as “fancy” lawyers, meaning that they either graduated from a top-25 law school according to US News and World report or worked at a top-200 law firm according to American Lawyer magazine.

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Here is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in action in 2023. (Brick Court Chambers just call it The Privy Council).

privy council quashes a conviction for armed robbery in the bahamas based on a confession allegedly obtained by police oppression

A horrifying story.

The Privy Council has today quashed the conviction of Mr Vinson Ariste for armed robbery on the ground that the confession on which the conviction was based should never have been admitted into evidence and rendered the conviction unsafe.

Mr Ariste was 20 years old in 2010, when the robbery happened. He looked much better before his police confession than after. In 2012 he was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on the basis of this confession. He appealed unsuccessfully to the Bahamas Court of Appeal, and thereafter to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which has now quashed the conviction. He was in prison for 12 years.

Paul Bowen KC, Emma Mockford and Jagoda Klimowicz acted pro bono on behalf of the Appellant, instructed by Simons Muirhead Burton / the Death Penalty Project.

Here is the trial.

I notice that the appellant is Mr Vinson Ariste and the respondent is The King.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies. It also serves those Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to His Majesty in Council or, in the case of republics, to the Judicial Committee. The judges are usually the justices of the Supreme Court. The Bahamas is an independent country, and member of the Commonwealth, which has decided to retain the Queen, now King Charles III, as head of state.

This leaves the question of what is the Privy Council itself? A question much asked when Penny Mordaunt appeared as a swordbearer at the coronation, in her capacity as Lord President of the Privy Council. Anyone who wants details of that can find it on the web.

United Kiltrunners e.V.

United Kiltrunners e.V. is a charitable organization founded in Fürth in 2015. I can find no Scottish connection for the kilts. Possibly when they run for charity their kilts make them more noticeable.

One of their current projects is providing rickshaw rides for senior citizens. This is called Radeln ohne Alter – cycling whatever your age, although it is more like being transported. There are definitely some nice green areas around the confluence of the Rednitz and the Pegnitz. The Kiltrunners have eight e-rickshaws, which I suppose are electrically assisted.

Kiltrunners und Senioren on tour


Fürth Wiki entry