Traditional legal language
The English language of today is still recognisably the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare, of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible. It is also the language of lawyers in many countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, to name but a few. In English, lawyers draft documents and compose letters; in English, lawyers formulate statutes and propagate regulations; in English, lawyers prepare pleadings and argue their cases.
Legal English, however, has traditionally been a special variety of English. Mysterious in form and expression, it is larded with law Latin and Norman French, heavily dependent on the past, and unashamedly archaic. Antiquated words flourish, such as aforementioned, herein, therein, whereas – words now rarely heard in everyday language. Habitual jargon and stilted formalism conjure a spurious sense of precision: the said, aforesaid, the same. Oddities abound: oath-swearers do not believe something, they verily believe it; parties do not wish something, they are desirous of it; the clearest photocopy only purports to be a copy; and so on. All this – and much more – from a profession that regards itself as learned.
Some infelicities of expression, some overlooked nuances, some grammatical slips, can be forgiven. Lawyers are only human, and in the day-to-day practice of law they face an overwhelming weight of words.