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NEWS

Plain language makes justice accessible

admin - February 11, 2019 - plain language, Letters of Rights, Access to Justice

 

On 28 January, Fair Trials participated in a meeting in Budapest which gathered plain language experts from different member states along with several NGOs working in the field of criminal justice. The meeting ‘Demystifying justice: training for justice actors on the use of plain language and developing clear and accessible letters of rights’ was part of a plain language project coordinated by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

The project builds on Fair Trials’ previous work with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee on increasing the accessibility of letters of rights. It aims to improve access to justice in European criminal proceedings by stimulating a movement for the use of plain language in criminal justice. It also seeks to encourage the development of more accessible letters of rights to suspects and arrested persons as required by EU law.

Despite the right to information in criminal proceedings, people often do not know their rights. Even if they are notified of their rights, many people will not be able to fully understand them, either because of the high stress situation they find themselves in, or because of the often complex and technical language used. Letters of rights should be accessible to everyone, and tailored to the specific needs of the person, especially if they belong to a vulnerable group.  

Currently, there is a vast disparity in the way letters of rights are drafted in different EU Member States. In some countries, the letters consist only of an excerpt from the national law, whilst in others, the letters have a more helpful summary of the law with simplifications. Generally speaking, there is limited awareness on the importance of plain language and accessible letters of rights. This is reflected in the complete absence of plain language experts in some countries. In other Member States, like Belgium, for example, there has already been significant work undertaken.

At the meeting, Christian Denoyelle, president of  the Belgian High Council of Justice presented the ‘Flavour project’ which , sought to realise a shift in culture of the judiciary and all judicial actors, where there has been resistance in introducing plain language. Some of this resistance might be down to a fear of change, or a fear of losing accuracy and authority. The ‘Flavour project’ report shows that these fears are not accurate, and that simplifying language actually benefits both the accused and justice actors.

Florence Cols from Droits Quotidiens, a Belgian NGO that works to explain citizens’ rights and obligations in plain language, shared her experience of training judicial actors on plain language. In her presentation, she emphasised how plain language actually helps to be precise, efficient, and to convey clear messages.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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