October 24, 2014 07:05 UTC

World

Writing Laws So Lawyers Are Not the Only Ones Who Can Read Them

Avi Arditti

Or download MP3 (Right-click or option-click and save link)

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: Our guest is David Marcello, executive director of the Public Law Center, a joint program of the Tulane and Loyola law schools in New Orleans.

RS: For about 20 years now, the center has been training people from other countries whose job is to write legislation. More than 500 legislative drafters from 90 countries have attended a training institute held each June.

AA: David Marcello says two trends account for the need for increased skills in legislative drafting. The first: the move toward a global economy, requiring more international trade agreements.

DAVID MARCELLO: "The second is the move toward democratization, which likewise requires a new regime of domestic laws. So legislative drafting personnel -- the people who actually write the acts that are considered by legislative bodies -- have been under the gun to produce better drafts of legislation. And our program has attempted to respond to that need with the two-week training program."

RS: "How important is language?"

Writing Laws So Lawyers Are Not the Only Ones Who Can Read Them
Writing Laws So Lawyers Are Not the Only Ones Who Can Read Them

DAVID MARCELLO: "Language is, of course, how we communicate policy, and it's important that those communications -- particularly in the form of legislation -- be direct and simple and free as much as possible from ambiguity."

RS: "You say that it's important to be direct and to be simple. How do you teach that in two weeks?"

DAVID MARCELLO: "We like to ask our drafters at the end of the training, Which of the techniques that we have suggested can you take home next week and put into practice in your office? And then we list them: shorter sentences and paragraphs. Everyday language. Words that have ordinary meanings in dictionaries. Punctuation that is used appropriately.

"All of these things are things that drafters can do to enhance reader understanding and to eliminate ambiguity in the law. And they do not need to ask permission to do these things. They can do them because they are appropriately within the realm of the drafter's role and discretion.

"Many pieces of legislation are written in a way that suggests they only speak to one group of people: the lawyers who wrote it. In fact, legislation should speak as broadly as possible to as many people as possible, and plain English is one way of doing that -- or plain language, more generally speaking."

AA: "And I'm curious about that. Again, from language to language, culture to culture, are there some where you find it's just easier to write more plainly and directly?"

DAVID MARCELLO: "I think across most cultures the tendency to write in more complicated modes of expression has been characteristic in the past. I see it as more a measure of modernity, moving into a more modern idiom, that we move from complicated to simpler expression.

"You know, you have to have a certain confidence in your ability as a culture to express policy before you can embrace the simplest way of doing that. The law has a dignity that will not be denied by the use of plain language. It does not need outdated, complicated forms of expression in order to accomplish its purposes. And, in fact, its purposes are best accomplished by the use of plain language rather than language that keeps readers from understanding what's intended."

RS: "When you present these ideas to your students, the people who are taking your seminar from other countries, are you basically raising awareness to this point?"

DAVID MARCELLO: "I'll relate for you an anecdote that one of our former drafting participants gave to us. She said that she felt she had not been well-served by her legal education because she was taught to write in flowery language. And she realized as she looked back upon it that that might have been a deliberate strategy by a government that was not particularly governed by the rule of law, but rather by the rule of edict. The rule of law carries substance and meaning at its heart and it constrains government."

AA: David Marcello at the Public Law Center in New Orleans says legislative drafters sometimes face resistance to what they learn there. But he says some countries have invited staff from the center to come and provide follow-up training.

RS: Training not only for other drafters, but in some cases for the politicians elected to vote on what they draft. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Audio Gunman Identified in Canadian Capital

    Also, UN human rights officials have called on China to guarantee open elections in Hong Kong. And, an attack in southwest Pakistan kills 11 people. WHO advises against Ebola travel bans. | In the News More

  • Tiny Police Cameras Oakland

    Video US Police Increase Use of Body Cameras

    Police officers in Washington, DC, and New York City are wearing cameras on their bodies as part of a test. The goal of the program is to reduce the use of force by officers and lower the number of criticisms from citizens. Police officers in many smaller communities are already doing so. More

  • General view of the city of Luxembourg in this picture taken on November 20, 2012.

    Audio Luxembourg Set to End Bank Secrecy

    European Union finance ministers have reached an agreement that will make it more difficult for tax avoiders to hide their money. The new legislation was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. Countries known as tax havens had blocked the bank secrecy laws. More

  • Armed officers approach Parliament Hilll following a shooting incident in Ottawa, Oct. 22, 2014.

    Video Deadly Attack Shocks Canada's Capital

    Also, Kurdish lawmakers in Iraq vote to send Kurdish forces to the Syrian town of Kobani. China said 43 people tested for possible Ebola infection do not have the virus. Russia and Ukraine are still working to reach an agreement on Ukraine's payments for natural Gas. More

  • FBI Director James Comey speaks about the impact of technology on law enforcement, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Brookings Institution in Washington.

    Audio Apple, FBI Battle Over Privacy Rules

    Apple recently said it was increasing security settings on its latest operating system for the company’s wireless devices. Apple said its new encryption rules are designed to protect users from search and seizure of their iPhones. But the changes are of concern to federal investigators. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Oscar de la Renta Dressed First Ladies and Movie Stars

    Clothing designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday at his home in the American state of Connecticut. He was 82 years old. His wife said he died of problems related to cancer. Mr. de la Renta dressed American movie stars and first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. More

  • Audio Iron Ships Clash at Sea

    The American Civil War was fought not only on land, but at sea. In 1862, Confederate and Union forces fought a new kind of navy battle in waters off Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was the first battle between iron ships. On the Confederate side was a ship called the Virginia. | The Making of a Nation More

  • Audio San Francisco Radio Stations Ban Lorde's 'Royals'

    The California baseball team, San Francisco Giants, is playing the Kansas City Royals for the 2014 Major League Baseball championship, the World Series. Two radio stations in San Francisco banned the hit song "Royals." In return, another station in Kansas City chose to play the song once every hour. More

  • A neurovascular unit on a chip being developed by Vanderbilt University researchers. (Vanderbilt University Photo/John Wikswo)

    Video Scientists Design Chips to Act Like Human Organs

    Testing new drugs for safety and effectiveness is a costly process in the United States. It also can take a lot of time. Some scientists are now designing silicon computer chips that act like human organs. The scientists think they have found a way to make the process faster and more economical. More

  • Brain Resource Infographic

    Audio Dealing with Distractions and Overreactions

    Five million American children and teenagers have Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. ADHD makes it difficult - if not impossible - to stay with a duty until it is complete. Katherine Ellison knows the problem well. | Health Report More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs