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Make statutes easier to understand, urges House of Lords

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Students’ purple books about to get thinner?

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The House of Lords Constitution Committee has called on the government to make statutes more accessible and easier to understand, both for practitioners and the public.

Law students will probably come across statute books during their degree, the most popular being the purple Blackstone’s editions. These contain relevant pieces of legislation on one topic (criminal law, company law, etc) and can generally be brought into exams as long as they don’t have notes in them.

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While these texts are a real crutch in assessments, no one’s pretending the statutes inside them are perfect.

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The committee, chaired by Labour’s Baroness Taylor of Bolton, goes as far as to say there are some large bodies of law which are “remarkably inaccessible and difficult for practitioners to comprehend, let alone the average citizen”. The report adds:

“Witnesses pointed to immigration law, tax law and sentencing as examples of areas where the complexity of law had developed to the point that it was a serious threat to the ability of lawyers and judges to apply it consistently — not to mention raising rule of law concerns as to the ability of the general public to understand the law to which they are subject.”


The committee, on which Gina Miller’s Article 50 case barrister, Lord Pannick, sits, thinks consolidation is key.

“We recommend that the government should, as a priority, provide the Law Commission with the necessary resources to start consolidating those areas of the law where consistent application of the law is now under threat from the sheer complexity of the existing statute book,” the report states. Hopefully these recommendations will translate into clearer, more understandable laws — and less heavy statute books.

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30 Comments

Not Amused

This sounds like a great idea; but as in all things what matters is the detail.

The country is still bankrupt. We’re still borrowing around 50 billion a year. We waste about 30 billion a year in interest payments on our debt. There are many many things I would rather spend money on than this and I would expect members of the HoL to realise that too.

So by all means let’s do this as a voluntary project involving academics and practitioners, but let’s not spend any public money on it.

(5)(5)

Benny Goodman

Look up John Maynard Keynes.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Look up bankruptcy

(12)(0)

Alpha Bro

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

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Beta Billy

Can I watch?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

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Scep Tick

Main problem I find is cross-referencing. A section will refer to a defined term (another section), a schedule (at the end), and other legislation, sometimes in the same sentence.

Just picking a section out of the Finance Act 2016 at random. Section 73. It’s here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/24/section/73

For a start, it’s not even section 73. It will be section 311A of one act and section 250A of a whole other act. And then there will be a section 322(zb) of a third act and so on and so forth. Normal editors would scrap the original act in toto and replace it with the new text; but no, law has to patch it up like a bicycle tyre.

And all this is for a tax relief on new washing machines. Surely there is a simpler way of doing tax. Just one example, look at the end. Why are there different dates for corporation and income tax purposes?

At least with that one you don’t need fingers in definition sections and separate schedules. And SIs that bugger around with it all even more.

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Anonymous

I agree. All the schedules, amendments and pin-points are unneccesary and could be drafted in a much more efficient way.

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Not Amused

Although thankfully they become less relevant with embedded hyperlinks.

Otherwise I wholly agree.

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Anonymous

Sure you don’t need to shoe-horn another banal and irrelevant statement about fiscal responsibility, Not Amused?

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Anonymous

Don’t forget statutory instruments which can be equally baffling.

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Anonymous

If you can’t understand legislation, you’re not a very good lawyer.

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Anonymous

If you were a real lawyer and attended Court you would realise how many litigants in person clog up the County Court and need help. Making the statutes easier to understand would be a major improvement.

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Anonymous

Only real lawyers attend court? Miaow

(1)(6)

Anonymous

It’s true. I second their comment.

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Trumpenkrieg

Yes, let’s jettison precision to help halfwits who would lack the patience to read the ingredients list on the side of a Cornflakes box.

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Anonymous

Trumpenkrieg’s ingredients is 100% pure lemon.

The strongest of bitterness is clear to all.

(6)(3)

Trumpenkrieg

Ingredients “are”

(4)(7)

Anonymous

Pipe down, lemonhead.

(2)(9)

Trumpenkrieg

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Trumpenkrieg

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

So you want a guy to do that to you? And you’re calling him gay?!

Trumpenkrieg

Gay

E Johnson

This was originally mooted around 2013 (?). I remember writing a blog on the paper released by the government about the pros and cons of the situation. Not convinced it will work particularly well and the cost is likely to be prohibitive…. not to mention the time it would take. Great idea in theory but I think the practical application will be lacking.

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Trumpenkrieg

Blah Blah Blah. Extremely interesting

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Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

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Not Amused

This is not me.

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Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

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Anonymous

We need to start a rolling process of consolidating all statutes on a subject into one Code, rather than having many, many statutes (often with subtly different names) dealing with the same subject.

If you were interested in schools and education law, for example, there should be a single Education Code, and future statutes should simply amend, add to, and delete from, that Code. At the moment, you’d have to look in the following:

Education Act 1996
Education Act 1997
Education (Schools) Act 1997
School Standards and Framework Act 1998
Education Act 2002
Education Act 2005
Education and Inspections Act 2006
Education and Skills Act 2008
Children, Schools and Families Act 2010
Education Act 2011
Education and Adoption Act 2016

…and that’s just since 1996. I’m sure I’ve missed some too.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Look at all the losers on here posting comments at gone 11pm!!

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