Plain legal language
Work towards clear and comprehensible legal language began when Finnish was adopted as an administrative and legislative language in the early 20th century. Legislative texts ought to be generally comprehensible, because they are used in, for example, administrative decisions, political debates and in the media. However, regulations are not always easy to understand.
The Institute works with plain legal language planning and research, and gives guidance to authorities and legislators. Our objective is to encourage legislators to pay attention to factors that affect citizens’ capability to understand regulations and, thus, other legal texts.
The Institute has provided language specialist services for a number of legislative projects. This has been done to facilitate the drafting of easily understandable legislative texts. The Institute’s legal language specialists have participated in working groups on legislative drafting and proposed improvements to terminology and overall phrasing.
Together with the unit responsible for legislative inspection at the Finnish Ministry of Justice, the Institute is currently working on webpages providing information and guidance to legislative drafters.
Research on Legal Language: Drafting a legislative text
In 2006–2011, the Institute and the Finnish Ministry of Justice conducted research together, as well as a and language revision project entitled ‘Drawing Up a Legislative Text’. This aimed to make the Housing Companies Act easier to understand. Through this project, the Institute gained valuable insights into how language use is discussed among legislative drafters. It also followed the long process of turning a draft into a legally binding text and gathered information on the kinds of linguistic amendments drafters are more likely to accept.
In conclusion, it seems that although language issues are frequently discussed in working group meetings, the focus is not on linguistic clarity. Formulations and expressions are discussed, but there is no systematic approach to terminology. Furthermore, when the content is noncontroversial, a text may undergo extensive changes during the final drafting phases.
Most commonly accepted linguistic amendments involve the simplification of sentence structures and proposals to replace legal jargon with plain-language expressions. Most commonly opposed linguistic amendments relate to attempts to clarify and explain legislative references and change the order of presentation.
History of clarity in Finnish legal languageRead more about how the legal language has been developed towards better comprehensibility in the language of law.
Finland makes its statutes intelligible: Good intentions and practicalities (Aino Piehl, in Obscurity and Clarity in the Law. Prospects and Challenges. Anne Wagner and Sophie Cacciaguidi-Fahy (eds.). Ashgate, 2008.)