We were lucky enough to travel in England and Wales in early October. We travelled by plane, train, tube, bus and taxi (in addition to miles of walking). At the train station in Bath we picked up a copy of “Metro” – a tabloid type newspaper similar, perhaps, to Vancouver’s “24 Hours”. An article caught my eye: “Tough sentences…baffling lingo of courts explained”. An experienced (unnamed) barrister apparently believes that the jargon in the English criminal courtroom is so confusing (even law students cannot understand it) that he penned a colourfully worded dictionary to translate certain well-used phrases. Each phrase and translation are set out below:
“Speaking plainly, m’lud…the translations.
- In my respectful submission: Listen up, yo.
- I am specifically instructed that…: Contrary to my sound advice, my client is insisting that I say that…
- If your honour is against me on that point: I infer from the fact that you have spent ten minutes trying to loudly humiliate me that you might not agree with my carefully reasoned argument, so let’s all move on…
- If your honour is with me on that point: Just say you agree and then I can sit down and stop talking.
- I mean no criticism of my learned friend: My learned friend’s solicitors are incompetent, probably corrupt and in all likelihood ugly mofos to boot.
- Your honour may recall this case: Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
- It’s a brief matter that will take no more than five minutes, if your honour is content to take the matter out of turn: It’s a difficult matter that will take hours to determine but I’m bored poopless of waiting my turn.
- It may be that in due course I seek assistance from your honour: I’m going to ask you to confirm you won’t send my client to jail. Then he’ll plead guilty and we can all go home.”
This may be jargon uniquely relevant to an English criminal court OR, perhaps, it reminds us of similar jargon used in Canadian criminal and civil courts. If so, no wonder self-represented litigants and new lawyers have such a hard time figuring out what is really going on! Julie MacFarlane’s study confirmed that SRLs concluded there was a “secret language” being used in the proceedings which was incomprehensible to those outside of the legal fraternity leading to feelings of exclusion.
While every profession has a certain kind of jargon, shouldn’t we be paying attention to how we use language and work harder to ensure that it does not exclude those for whom the system was designed?