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Victoria Law Foundation urges lawyers and government to support use of plain language

International Plain Language Day 2012

Victoria Law Foundation today urged legal professionals and government to remain committed to the use of plain language to help Victorians understand the law and their legal system.


On the eve of International Plain Language Day, Victoria Law Foundation Executive Director Joh Kirby said Australia is a leader in plain language drafting but the legal sector and government needs to keep pushing for an end to complex, convoluted and inaccessible language at every stage of the legal process.


“The reality is that many Australians – around 46% - struggle with literacy in some way,” said Joh Kirby.


“Some of the information available about our law and legal system fails to meet their needs. It’s also sometimes badly written, poorly structured and without a clear audience or purpose,” she said.


“Although the law is complex, the legal profession and government have an obligation to ensure Victorians can find, use and understand information about their legal rights and responsibilities.”


Since 2009 more than 540 legal professionals and law students have attended the foundation’s free plain language training and publishing workshops. Hundreds of copies of its publication, the Better Information Handbook, have also been distributed to help those producing information about the law.


“Demand for plain language services by the Victorian legal profession suggests that there is an appetite for change,” said Joh. “But stronger measures, such as legislation or a code of conduct, would help to bring about broader, and more lasting, change.”


In 2011, Joh Kirby published the findings of her Churchill Fellowship which looked at the work being done to improve legal information in other countries. She travelled to Washington DC in May to present her findings at an international conference on plain language and to collect the foundation’s first plain language award.


“In the US, where there is a plain language law, many government departments have replaced legalese with clear and concise legal information. What they are finding is that, by making it easier for Americans to find, understand and use legal information, they are also saving considerable time and money,” said Joh.


“I urge the legal sector and government to look at the growing body of research and evidence in Australia and overseas in support of plain language, and to take steps to ensure we remain leaders in this area.”


International Plain Language Day is on 13 October 2012. To find out more about plain language and the foundation’s work to help Victorians understand the law and their legal system, visit www.victorialawfoundation.org.au