Lawyers who want plain English
20 August 2016
By Sarah Winters
This post isn’t like my usual ones. I was totally humbled and inspired last week and I wanted to share.
Imagine this scenario: you have perfectly user-centred, researched page of gorgeous content and your publishing process means your next step is to get it ‘signed off’ by a legal team.
You send it off.
That legal person makes you put a 90-word paragraph of impenetrable jargon in the middle of it, ensuring most readers will either skip it or bounce out.
Have you been through anything like that? If you haven’t, this post probably isn’t relevant. But if you have, there’s some hope out there.
Some context for you
I’m on the advisory board for Youth Justice Legal Centre, part of Just for Kids Law. They are truly incredible people. They are a bunch of lawyers who are fighting for children’s rights in police stations and court.
When children are adults
You see, sometimes, children are treated like adults in police custody and in court.
The law itself has just changed so 17-year olds can be seen as children.
This is really important.
A child may not know what any of their rights are. They may not realise they can have a lawyer, and a responsible adult, present when they are questioned. This lack of knowledge can have devastating results.Last year, a 17-year old was in police custody.
The 17-year old was seen as an adult and not allowed to call her parents.
The 17-year old was held in a police cell for 2 nights and 3 days.
The 17-year old committed suicide a few hours after she was released.
Representing a child is unbelievably important
This is the sort of problem our legal system faces: a youth court is seen as a training ground.
Junior barristers get to practice, without proper training and no experience, on children’s lives.
Stop and think about that for a moment.
The loo story
A kid makes a mistake. A single mistake. Like being with a pal who set fire to a toilet roll in an empty public toilet.
Now, that’s a silly thing to do.
But worth slapping the kid with a caution (a formal warning) that will stay with him/her forever? A caution that stops that child being able to go to some countries? Go into certain careers? For some stupid mistake?
A series of ‘mistakes’, fine. A ‘mistake’ like stabbing someone, fine. But one single mistake in a lifetime of good behaviour. Really?
The loo story is a true story
Luckily, the mum of that child found Just for Kids Law, and they stepped in. The policedropped the case. That child now wants to travel and go into finance. That child can. No more mistakes.
Could have been so different.
Plain English law
On Nov 25th I stood at the House of Lords for the launch the Youth Justice Legal Centre site. The site is incredible: it’s in plain English. It teaches solicitors and barristers what they need to know. It makes law quick to understand for professionals, parents and young people alike.
This is a website that can, quite literally, save a child’s life.
While I stood there, listening to the speeches, I heard to inspiring stories and amazing work.
I also heard lawyers tutting at the use of the word ‘adjourn’. “Why isn’t it just ‘delay’?” someone called out.
Here was a room full of lawyers, some of the cleverest people around, who are working to make the law understandable and open to everyone. The legal system is a scary place. Here was a room full of people wanting to make it better.
Content and legal
I’ve been working on content for many years. Most of the time, I find working with lawyers a challenge. But I have found (mostly ;)) when I explain why I am doing what I am doing, a compromise can be found. Sometimes it ends up with a very good relationship. That takes time. But it is so worth it.
It’s not often I feel awe like this. Just wanted to share.
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