Time to get rid of legalese in Singapore


The Singapore Academy of Law should get lawyers to replace archaic legalese with plain English in legal documents, as suggested by Mr Kim-Gau Ng (Use plain English in legal documents; March 15).

Time and effective communication are a premium to all of us.

Why does the legal profession insist on using pompous and long-winded legal jargon, which confuses even well-educated people?

The reason lawyers have always given is that they need to use jargon to prevent loopholes and misinterpretations in their correspondence. Is this true?

There have been attempts in the past by language educators to encourage the use of plain English and discard officialese in government departments, legal firms and insurance companies.

Sadly, their proposals and advice have largely fallen on deaf ears.

When Dr Goh Keng Swee was the Minister for Education, he encouraged the use of plain English and went as far as recommending Sir Ernest Gower's Complete Plain Words to public officers.

In fact, the book was written for British civil servants in 1954 to get rid of grandiloquence in their writing. Much progress has been made since.

Why are we in Singapore so slow to make improvements to official writing, especially in legal documents?

The Chinese pragmatically got rid of classical Chinese in their official writing decades ago despite facing great resistance from classical scholars.

This has led to their modernisation and all-round development.

It is time for Singapore to do so too.

Tan Kim Hock