Judge´s «respectful» plea for plainer English
A barrister is a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth in place of a tongue. Or so it would appear to Mr Justice Staughton, a judge in the Commercial Court.
The learned judge has become irritated at the linguistic duplicity of counsel, and the way in which they use archaic words to camouflage what is at bottom, an insult.
Writing in the current edition of the quarterly legal journal «Counsel», a learned magazine read by upper echelons of the legal profession, the judge tells about barristers who preface a statement to him with the phrase «With respect». What that really means, says the judge, is «you are wrong».
A statement prefaced with the words «With great respect» means «you are utterly wrong». And if a barrister produces the ultimate weapon of «With utmost respect» he is really saying to the court, «Send for the men in white coats».
The judge wants more plain English used in courts, and less of the legal language of the obscure past, some of which he says has been «obsolete» in ordinary speech almost since the Bible.
Words like «humbly» and «respectfully» are not only unnecessary in written legal documents, they are generally untruthful in oral argument, says the judge with utmost respect.
Judges themselves are, of course, not entirely free of guilt in the matter of exchanges which are not very understandable.
As the courtroom clock moves towards 1 pm, counsel might say: «It might be of value to your Lordship if I were to inform you at this juncture that I have several more questions to ask of to this witness which would take some little while». The judge will reply: «This seems a useful time to adjourn». What they really mean is lunch.