Conference – The Syntax of Justice: Law, Language, Access & Exclusion

syntaxA conference entitled “The Syntax of Justice: Law, Language, Access & Exclusion” is being held from 30-31 March 2017 at Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

The example below illustrates the theme of the conference.

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of clear writing.

Consider this excerpt of a California jury instruction:

Failure of recollection is common. Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon.

Now consider the rewritten version:

People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember.

Law is where we put into words what we consider to be appropriate conduct. At times, this wording may be difficult to understand — thus defeating its purpose. Similar problems arise when words or sentences are ambiguous, when a word has a specialized meaning or when words are added unnecessarily and contribute no meaning. Many words depend on context while others have connotations that may not be clear. And some words mean very different things in different dialects of English.

These problems invite us to examine issues that arise not only in legal language, but also in language in general. For example:

  • the tension between precise technical vocabulary and obfuscational jargon
  • how to write laws that everyone can understand
  • the challenge of developing plain language jury instructions that capture the law in terms understandable to all jurors
  • the ways that literal interpretation and plain text meaning are insufficient to capture the nuance of language familiar in ordinary conversation

This conference will focus on how language can lead to exclusion and injustice, and how to overcome these problems via research that recognizes and points to ways to rectify exclusion and expand access to justice.

For more information, details of speakers and how to register, click here.

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