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Family judge praised for ditching legal jargon so child can understand judgment

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Less legalese for Lynch of Leeds

A family court judge has won plaudits for writing an adoption judgment without legal jargon.

Circuit judge Sarah Lynch, approving the adoption of a baby known only as X, said that her judgment would be written so as to make sense to the parents and the adopted child. Social media users praised the “powerfully compassionate” ruling.

Lynch opened by saying:

“I am going to try to write this judgment in a way that will make sense to them [the parents], given they have some problems with understanding, so it may not sound as legal as some judgments.”

Dispensing with family court jargon, Lynch wrote that “both Y and Z [the parents] had very bad experiences when they were children and those things have really affected them.. they simply were not able to learn how to be the right kind of parents, not because they did not want to but because of their own problems inside”.

Lynch went on to discuss the options for baby X, saying “given he cannot be with his mum and dad, it is more important that he is adopted than that he has a relationship with them… if he can be with his sisters that would be brilliant, a huge plus”.

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As well as making the necessary care and adoption placement orders, Lynch also ordered Wakefield council to hand over a copy of the judgment to X’s adoptive parents so that he can read it in future. The decision was handed down at Leeds Combined Court Centre just before Christmas.

Legal blogger Gordon Exall shared the judgment on Twitter, with lawyers and non-lawyers praising the “powerful” and “sensitively written” prose.

The idea of writing family court judgments in plain English is not new. Peter Jackson, now on the Court of Appeal, wrote one judgment in the form of a letter to the 14-year-old boy involved, beginning it simply “Dear Sam“. A previous Jackson judgment, written for the benefit of the mother and older children in the case, went viral in 2016.

Speaking on the BBC’s Word of Mouth programme earlier this week, family lawyer and blogger Lucy Reed said that decisions are often delivered in “technical language” that prevents the people involved from understanding what’s gone on in their case. Reed has herself written family judgments “using simple words” in her capacity as a deputy district judge.

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31 Comments

Anonymous

As some who is adopted. That matters.

(33)(1)

Mr Charles

That tweet praising the use of plain language as an exemplar for BPTC students is unhelpful. Might be good for the family courts, but do that in yoir written exams and you will fail.

(33)(1)

Anonymous

Or in any area involving difficult law.

(2)(0)

Nick Quine

Perhaps it’s the examination that needs changing? I note the comment below about “difficult law”. What is more difficult than removing a child from their parents?

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Taxation of trusts.

(11)(0)

Mjr. Beef.

that judgment sounds like something that a tenant at 5 Pump Court would write tbf

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Why?

(1)(0)

Scep Tick

I think this has happened in the Family Courts before, when a judge drafted a judgment so that one of the children (who, he said, had shown real interest in the proceedings) could understand it.

The question is why aren’t ALL judgments – indeed statutes – like this? If you can’t explain, say, tax law in a way that a 12 year old can understand it, then there’s something wrong with the law.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Why would a 12 year old need to know about tax law?

(4)(0)

Scep Tick

You must have done the wrong paper rounds.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I’m reminded of an old Groucho Marx joke:

‘Why, this document is so simple that a four year old could understand it…get me a four year old, I can’t make heads or tails of it.’

(2)(0)

Mohammed Bello

It is a good thing to encourage simplicity. A preponderance of it though will dull legal judgements and mask the intellectual rigour that lawyers are known for. Simplicity and the language of the law can live in juxtaposition. It is a balancing of the competing interests that is needed in circumstance such as this. The child will understand and so will the parents. That is a more robust outcome.

(3)(6)

Anonymous

Brilliant self parody

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Good.

Now to make the rest of the legal profession speak normal English, rather than trying and failing to make themselves feel clever with funny words.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a limit to it. I had an employment client recently who didn’t understand what subordinate meant. But when we use ridiculous words to describe procedure and court practice, there is something amiss.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

I think wolves in sheeps clothing write judgments like that. I can understand why other wolves would admire it, but the judge is near the top of a pyramid of a terrible state of affairs, really, and perhaps only an experienced eye can see it. A female too !

(0)(6)

Anonymous

“I am going to try to write this judgment in a way that will make sense to them [the parents], given they have some problems with understanding, so it may not sound as legal as some judgments.”

Given the Judge is based in Yorkshire, imagine this passage read in Sean Bean’s sensual, gravelly tones.

Better than the usual plummy southern Judge voice isn’t it?

(5)(0)

Dave Barrister

No.

(1)(4)

Anonymous

The judgment is actually much better than many I have seen at the things the usual style is supposed to deliver. It clearly explains the reasons, it notes that the proper things have been considered, it is clear what is ordered.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Precision is what we’re really after in a legal judgement. Sometimes that requires complex language, sometimes it’s militated against by complex language

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Brilliant self parody

(2)(0)

Comments are closed.

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