Plain English drafting/Muster-Gesetzestexte

Legislative drafting in plain English is the topic of Clarity for May 2006 (PDF file), the latest online issue. (Shallower link for Clarity the organization)

I have been busy so I offer this for further reading, but I haven’t read much of it myself.

This is a report on a workshop at the 2005 Boulogne conference, at which instructions for a bill to regulate queueing were given and a number of people prepared draft bills (I expect at a later date), three of which are given as examples of plain English drafting.

Part of the instructions:

The government is of the view that the time has come when in all appropriate circumstances queues must be formed and that they must be regulated to promote fairness and avoid confusion and violence. Draftsmen are therefore requested to draft an appropriate Bill to be put before the legislature. It may be entitled “The Queues Act , 2005”.

Non-British readers should note that this is not a serious intention.

Not all translators want to translate into plain English, but this offers everyone food for thought, especially the summary at the end by Vicki Schmolka, who compares both these three drafts and some (unpublished) drafts on concealing information as to noise when selling a house.

She discusses and gives examples of the title, table of contents, definitions (if any), he/she etc., notes and examples, placement of penalty provisions, section numbering, use of lists and and/or, and must/shall.

Note, for instance, on definition:

None of the drafters used a system, such as italics, underlining, or an asterisk, to indicate a special meaning when a defined word or term was used in
the draft Act.

Many translators in Germany argue that once you define, say, the seller, you should not only write Verkäufer in German, you should capitalize/uppercase or italicize it so it stands out the way Seller does in some English contracts. The argument is that there may be other Verkäufer referred to who are not italicized. That obviously depends on the source translation. For those of us translating into English, however, it’s worth noting that it’s not just plain English advocates who don’t capitalize defined terms (then again, some contracts are enormous and these aren’t).

And here’s something to mull over: the examples of approaches to he/she:

The drafters were consistent within their own drafts, but among the six drafts, each of the
following styles occurred. …
‘Each person in a queue must make sure that he is no more than 50 centimetres away from the person in front of him.”’ “
‘A police officer may order any person whom they believe …’
‘A person in a queue may invite one other person to take a place in the queue immediately in front of
him or her.”’
‘•“A solicitor or estate agent is retained by a client if any firm of which he or she is a member or by which he or she is employed is retained by the client.”’
‘•“If a seller uses a lawyer to sell the Property, and the lawyer knows that the seller has not done
what section 8 requires, the lawyer must tell the buyer before the buyer enters into any contract to
buy the Property.”’
‘•“You, the buyer may [only] make a claim for an award of damages for intentional non-disclosure
or stn [statutory troublesome noise] by taking the following steps: …c) step 3 —if you really want …’

Incidentally, no-one used shall.

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