Sasikala judgment: It's time our courts simplify legalese and make it easier to understand

If you read this paragraph and then read it again and again, you wonder truly if legalese is stuck in a time warp. Not even Geoffrey Chaucer wrote English like this. Never mind it being an enlightenment of the legal judgments in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Here is an excerpt from Justice Amitava Roy’s judgment:

A growing impression in contemporary existence seems to acknowledge, the all pervading pestilent presence of corruption almost in every walk of life, as if to rest reconciled to the octopoid stranglehold of this malaise with helpless awe. The common day experiences indeed do introduce one with unfailing regularity, the variegated cancerous concoctions of corruption with fearless impunity gnawing into the frame and fabric of the nation’s essentia.

Emboldened by the lucrative yields of such malignant materialism, the perpetrators of this malady have tightened their noose on the societal psyche. Individual and collective pursuits with curative interventions at all levels are thus indispensable to deliver the civil order from the asphyxiating snare of this escalating venality.

While there is no absence of respect for the right of the judiciary to exercise its writing skills, a germane question would be how important it believes it is to get the message across to the public.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In this case, with Sasikala facing several years behind bars and Tamil Nadu in political turmoil, just to offer an example (not to mention another 100,000 cases) to illustrate the point, would it not be more sensible to reinvent the English language in the judicial system and use it for maximum benefit as a vehicle for educating the public?

Half the time, we, the petitioners or defendants, do not understand what our lawyers are saying and we just nod in miserable surrender and helplessness.

Here we are in an era of abbreviated texting and instant messaging what with even our elected leaders capsuling milestones in 140 characters and there is the judiciary at a completely other level writing in a style so archaic and out of sync that not even one percent of the nation would be able to understand what exactly is being said.

It is almost as if the thesaurus was kept open and the most difficult synonyms were found to create this strive for effect. Since many an important judgement comes in English, it leaves the majority stranded. And when the language is not just Macaulayan, but so purple in its hue, even those tutored in English are hard-pressed to absorb the analogies and metaphors that emanate from such writing.

As such, the bridge between the people and their law becomes a gap — a chasm in understanding that needs to be addressed.

This is India in 2017 where English has its own Indian cadence and words like 'timepass', 'bindaas', 'bandobast' and 'gherao' are now intrinsic to the colour of our dialect.

No one writes likes this anymore. Not in school, not in college, not in the media, it is not reflected in public speaking and it has no role in the modern generation. Our films, or books, our news do not encourage such usage so why only is the judiciary so convoluted?

Experts in legal matters will be able to give us a more studied reasoning why this outdated tendency still continues. Surely the law is better served if it is comprehensible.

If the judiciary also dropped the ‘insofarmuch’ and ‘hithertofore’ type of writing it employs and just simplified what it wanted to say by modernising itself, perhaps the public would be more knowledgeable.

Imagine if one was to attempt to translate the quoted paragraph into another language.

The effort would be self-defeating.


Published Date: Feb 15, 2017 01:26 pm | Updated Date: Feb 15, 2017 05:54 pm