Purple prose

Purple prose

There are few professions that allow one to be as verbose as a judge. Sometimes, this freedom can result in powerful judgments that weave brilliant legal interpretation with sparkling prose.

At other times, legal judgments are so complicated that they make little sense to normal people.

In rare times, as happened recently in India, they even bewilder lawyers directly involved in the case.

A bemused Supreme Court bench sent back a convoluted judgment from a high court judge in the state of Himachal Pradesh to be re-drafted because it was simply unintelligible.

"We will have to set it aside because one cannot understand this," MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta were quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying on 14 April.


And, what was so complicated about the judgment, which ruled in favour of a tenant locked in a years-long battle with a landlord?

Here is an extract:

And more:

The lawyer representing the tenant, Aishwarya Bhati, reportedly joked in court that she needed to hire an English professor to understand the convoluted ruling.

But the UK-based Plain English Campaign (PEC) said they had seen similar language deployed in the past by judges, though the wording in this case was "preposterously overblown".

"There is simply no reason or excuse for it," the PEC's Lee Monks told the BBC. "We've often heard the defence that these are 'legal terms' but that's very often a cop-out.

"The idea that something like '...fullest succour from the aforesaid acquiescence' is at all necessary is ridiculous."

While that may be true, judges in the Indian sub-continent, and elsewhere, clearly enjoy the freedom they have to show off their verbal dexterity and cultural knowledge in judgments - though they usually make more sense.

On Thursday, a judgment from Pakistan's Supreme Court ruling that there was insufficient evidence of corruption to remove Nawaz Sharif from the role of prime minister began by mentioning Mario Puzo's 1969 novel The Godfather, before quoting 19th Century novelist Honore de Balzac, in the original French.

Purple prose

Back in India, a 268-page Supreme Court judgment last year from Justice Dipak Misra was particularly verbose in dismissing a challenge to the constitutionality of the criminal offence of defamation brought by Subramanian Swamy, a politician.

The judge wrote, in a sentence described by the journalist and former law lecturer Tunku Varadarajan as "among the worst sentences I've encountered in all my years of reading legal materials":

But Indian judges, with few exceptions, "love purple prose which they mistake to be or believe to be Shakespearean English", says Binoo K. John, who wrote a book - Entry from Backside Only: Hazaar Fundaas of Indian English - about the peculiar use of English in the sub-continent.

"So considering the long history of such prose, it is not all all embarrassing in India," he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, at least one High Court judge in England has listened to calls to simplify the language used in judgments.

Justice Peter Jackson published a simply-worded ruling last year in a family court case so it could be understood by the children affected by it.

He even used an emoji.



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