Exclamation mark in Supreme Court judgment

Thank goodness the Supreme Court has ruled that Prince Charles’s ‘black spider memo’ letters to parliament can be disclosed:
full judgment and press summary as PDFs on the Supreme Court site.

Judgment read out on youtube:
R (on the application of Evans) and another v Attorney General

This relates to letters predating the coalition legislation under which the royal family are exempt from freedom of information law: see 37 here (PDF).

But attention quickly concentrated on the use of an exclamation mark in the judgment (fortunately in a dissenting opinion):

LORD WILSON: (dissenting)
168. I would have allowed the appeal. How tempting it must have been for the Court of Appeal (indeed how tempting it has proved even for the majority in this court) to seek to maintain the supremacy of the astonishingly detailed, and inevitably unappealed, decision of the Upper Tribunal in favour of disclosure of the Prince’s correspondence!

Jack of Kent on Twitter:

Jack of Kent @JackofKent

So Lord Wilson has brought a long distinguished judicial career to an end by using an exclamation mark in a judgment pic.twitter.com/s8KF8QgMEJ


The reburial or reinterment of a body sharing the same female DNA as Richard III and many others recalls the Umbettung of Friedrich der Große in 1991. At least the pomp and ceremony in the former case will not be limited by the wishes of Richard to a burial at night by the light of carriage lamps.


Grabplatte Friedrich II. Schuschke von SK49 – Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC BY 3.0 über Wikimedia Commons

(Spiegel article on Richard III)

See also Operation Bodysnatch on the saltmine.

The German media on the US legal system

Andrew Hammel has a suspicion that the German media are keen to find fault with what they believe to be the US justice system, while overlooking comparable shortcomings of the German justice system. Goodness gracious – is he allowed to publish that kind of thing?

Bleg: German News Coverage of Failures of German Justice

Andrew is looking for evidence in the German-language press:

So what I am looking for is articles in the German-language press by Germans which deal with potential justice problems in courts in German-speaking countries including:

(1) wrongful convictions;

(2) racial, ethnic, or religious disparities in conviction rates or sentencing;

(3) allegations of racial or ethnic or religious bias among German prosecutors and professional or lay judges;

(4) interviews with prisoners currently serving prison sentences in Germany who claim that they are completely innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted; and/or

(5) detailed examinations of systemic problems in German criminal justice or prisons, things such as underfunding, outdated regulations, disproportionate penalties, or the use of unreliable evidence.

And why behold you the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye?

William Townley 1866-1950 – footballer

Another Englishman in Fürth (see William Wilson, earlier entry).

William Townley’s career in the glorious days of Fürth football are well documented:

The following year he was hired by the northern Bavarian club SpVgg Fürth. This club owned the most advanced facilities in Germany and was quickly becoming the largest club in the country with a membership approaching 3,000. Two months after his arrival Fürth lost against English side Newcastle United only 1–2. He guided the club to its first two Bavarian championships (Ostkreismeisterschaft) which heralded the onset of a golden era that would last into the 1930s which saw the club become one of the most dominant football sides in the country.

except for a gap in the First World War:

In December 1913 Townley got the call from Bayern Munich, but on a loan arrangement he re-joined to Fürth in April of the following year to guide the that club through the national championship rounds. In the final Fürth captured its first national title, defeating defending champions VfB Leipzig, holders of a then record three German titles. It is not clear, but he may then have returned to Munich, before the horrors of World War I overtook the continent, obscuring knowledge of Townley’s activities during this period.

Famous Germans and Austrians – not

ENO Mastersingers frontcloth: 103 famous German(speaker)s.

Mastersingers at the ENO.

Can we please replace Simone Weil with Franz Kafka? This is getting silly.

I think at the end they produced placards with an even wider range. One libretto:

Beware! Evil tricks threaten us:
if the German people and kingdom should one day decay,
under a false, foreign rule
soon no prince would understand his people;
and foreign mists with foreign vanities
they would plant in our German land;
what is German and true none would know,
if it did not live in the honour of German Masters.
Therefore I say to you:
honour your German Masters,
then you will conjure up good spirits!
And if you favour their endeavours,
even if the Holy Roman Empire
should dissolve in mist,
for us there would yet remain
holy German Art!

Die augenärztliche Untersuchung der Sehschärfe soll einäugig und beidäugig erfolgen

This expression is mentioned here as an example of legalese that needs improving, but I have no evidence of any improvement.
And a colleague was taken aback by the 41 characters in Bundeswehrattraktivitätssteigerungsgesetz. But of course short titles of statutes do turn out that way – see the graphic under the heading of the more recent article Wie meinen?:


I’ve already mentioned the death of Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.

If the ‘short form’ is so long, no wonder they refer to statutes by the abbreviation.

At all events, since 2009 there has been a team at the German Ministry of Justice which reviews legislation before it is passed to see if it is comprehensible. It is called Redaktionsstab Rechtssprache

There’s been an international conference on writing more comprehensible legislation and abstracts of the papers are available on the BMJV website. Here’s the abstract of the UK talk – the talk itself isn’t online as far as I can see.

Diggory Bailey
Parliamentary Counsel
Cabinet Office UK Government
Talk on work of Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (UK)
The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel Office in London is responsible for drafting Government Bills for introduction into the UK Parliament. The Counsel are lawyers who specialise in drafting. They are responsible for drafting legislation that gives legal effect to the policy as well as ensuring that it is as clear and simple as possible. The same people have the function of drafting legislation and reviewing it for
comprehensibility/clarity, in contrast with some jurisdictions. This paper describes some of the ways that we have improved the comprehensibility of legislation. It considers: the Tax Law Rewrite Project and techniques developed to make legislation clearer and easier to understand (shorter sentences, headings, overviews etc); introduction of explanatory notes; the role of the Office drafting techniques
group and drafting guidance; possible user research into different drafting techniques.

But there are some profiles of parliamentary counsel available.

Changing terminology

In another mailing list last week, I was struck by the question of how to translate the term divorce decree into German.

One would normally write Scheidungsurteil, but recently the term Urteil has been removed from German divorce law, apparently because it makes divorce sound like a fight (haha!). Indeed, all family law cases now end in a Beschluss, which sounds more harmless, allegedly.

See Es gibt keine Scheidungsurteile mehr in Thomas von der Wehl’s blog.

Wir haben nur durch das neue FamFG eine neue Begrifflichkeit erhalten. Aus einem schwer nachvollziehbaren Grunde hat der Gesetzgeber den Begriff Scheidungsurteil abgeschafft und durch den Begriff Scheidungsbeschluss ersetzt. Er wollte damit ausdrücken, dass es sich bei Scheidungsverfahren um angeblich weniger streitige Verfahren handelt und dieses Weniger an Streit mit dem etwas geringerwertigen Begriff “Beschluss” kenntlich machen. Ich halte das für Unsinn, zumal die Vermutung, Scheidungsverfahren seien weniger weniger streitige Verfahren, häufig falsch ist.

So the colleague’s question was: do we change the translated term to suit new German practice? The answer on all sides was ‘no’.

And yet when English law removed the term plaintiff and replaced it by claimant, translators in the UK followed suit, even though the term plaintiff is used in Ireland and thus in the EU, and also in the USA and other common-law jurisdictions. And similarly, in family law, it’s common to use contact instead of access in translations, just because the term has changed in English law.

Of course one has to consider how close the concepts are in German law and English law. And also whether the audience is from one specific jurisdiction – it’s statistically more sensible to use plaintiff unless the readership are purely from the UK.

I’m trying to think of other cases where changes in terminology might affect translations. One area is the introduction of ‘politically correct’ usage, which may occur in the USA and UK before it does in Germany. Should a German institution use non-sexist language in its English documentation even if it doesn’t in German? I think so.

The names of courts, court personnel and lawyers often change. So do forms of companies and partnerships.

Of course, many concepts are not close and the target language needs a definition. It’s only terms like Scheidungsurteil and plaintiff that are close enough that one wonders whether to follow changes in the target language.