Attorney General urges lawyers to drop legal ‘gobbledegook’

Séamus Woulfe says justice system must become less intimidating for victims

Attorney General: Séamus Woulfe at the Victims’ Directive conference in Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Attorney General: Séamus Woulfe at the Victims’ Directive conference in Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe has urged lawyers to drop “gobbledegook” legal jargon to make the criminal-justice system less intimidating.

Courts have to operate at “a remove from everyday life” in order to be “disinterested and objective”, he said, but he questioned the daily use of unnecessarily unfamiliar practices and phrases. “That leads to this notion of an alien set of surroundings, with which court users are unfamiliar, and it is not surprising to hear victims say their time in the courtroom was intimidating, alien and strange.”

Mr Woulfe said solutions could “be as simple as practising lawyers’ speaking to clients in plain language”, he told a conference on victims’ rights hosted by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland.

The Attorney General said even lawyers are frustrated by legalese. “It is an experience some of us have ringing a colleague about a case: we often wish they would just talk to us in more plain language, instead of the gobbledegook that goes on.”

Mr Woulfe added that lawyers need to take account particularly of the most vulnerable victims brought before the courts. He said recent studies of crown courts in England and Wales highlighted their users’ concerns about an “overly ritual and formal” culture.

The system moves at “too fast a pace for ordinary people” and is “incomprehensible”, the Attorney General said. “That is a challenge for the courts going forward: how to make the process more intelligible.”