Wednesday, June 29News That Matters

Court language

A two-member Bench of the Supreme Court has been left so utterly bewildered by the language used in a judgment by the Himachal Pradesh High Court that it remarked: ‘Is this in Latin?’ The Bench of Justices KM Joseph and PS Narasimha observed that they might have to send the matter — pertaining to a property dispute — back to the High Court, with a direction to rewrite the judgment in comprehensible language. Heading the Bench, Justice Joseph asked the counsel for the appellant if he could figure out what the HC judgment said, but he too was helpless as he could understand only parts of it and could explain the matter only with the help of the trial court’s judgment, which was more lucid.

In March 2021, too, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court was completely mystified by a HP High Court judgment, observing: ‘We are at our wits’ end. This is happening repeatedly.’ In 2017, the apex court had set aside a judgment passed by the HP High Court due to the convoluted language used in it, noting: ‘After hearing learned counsel, it is not possible to comprehend the contents of the impugned order passed by the High Court.’ The common man is almost invariably left befuddled by mysterious legal jargon used in the police and court documents, but it’s a telling comment on the state of the system when even the highest court of the country finds high court judgments incomprehensible.

As Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most effective mass communicators of the 20th century, discovered, the most powerful ideas become accessible to the common man if they are presented in a simple, direct and concise manner. In the matters of the courts, the language must be specific, direct and precise — verbosity, ambiguity and obscure allusions must be eschewed so that a litigant could understand at least the essence of a judgment with ease. The focus must be on the poor litigant. This aspect must be emphasised upon at law schools and judicial academies. Lucidity must be the soul of court judgments.

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