The plaintiff filed pleadings running into 120 pages. The learned judge was not happy. The learned judge struggled through the volumes of jargon. The judge then assessed that all the pertinent material could have been contained in 16 pages. He asked who wrote this mumbo jumbo. When told that the culprit was the plaintiff’s son Richard Mylward, the learned judge imposed severe sanctions on Richard for his annoying verbosity, which, in the judge’s view, amounted to an abuse of court process. The sanctions included perforating the offending mass of documents and inserting poor Richard’s head through the hole made in the paperwork, and then leading him about the court premises during court sittings for all to ridicule, with the large pack of documents hanging around his shoulders.
“Gives a whole new meaning to the expression ‘legal loophole’, doesn’t it?” quipped the editor of Clarity Newsletter.
Lawyers’ language goes on trial—less literally than in Mylward’s case.
When I was a kid growing up in Onitsha, occasionally I would go to the courthouse to observe proceedings. One day I watched the following unfold.
The witness swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him, God. The clerk asked him whether he understood English. The witness said yes. The lawyer for his side did the direct examination. Then the opposite lawyer gathered her papers and came over to start cross-examination:
Lawyer: Is the defendant’s land contiguous to your father’s farm?
Witness: (No response, looking blank, glancing pitiably at the judge)
Lawyer: Answer the question! Is the defendant’s land contiguous to your father’s farm?
Witness: Sorry, I don’t understand.
Lawyer (yelling): You don’t understand? But you told this honourable court that you understood English.
Judge (to counsel): Why not rephrase your question in plain English?
Lawyer: My lady, he said he understands English. I’m speaking English to him now and he’s moping like a cow!
(Turning belligerently back to the witness):
Is your father’s farm contiguous to the defendant’s land?
(Back to the judge):
My lady, I’ve rephrased the question. Let him answer it. He must answer the question.
Witness: I’m sorry, my lady. I do not understand the question.
Pompous campus lexicon
When I went to university, the community encouraged pompous language with big words. Examples:-
Plain English: Birds of like feather flock together.
Lawyer-friendly university translation: Birds of identical plumage congregate in the same equilibrium.
Plain English: A rolling stone gathers no moss.
Lawyer-friendly university translation: A travelling geological formation acquires little vegetative growth.
Plain English: Charity begins at home.
Lawyer-friendly university translation: Eleemosynary contributions commence with one’s domicile.
Plain English: Turn off lights before close of work.
Lawyer-friendly university translation: Illumination is required to be extinguished before these premises are closed to business.