Use plain English in your court paperwork

Use plain English in your court paperwork

Can you think of anything you have read recently that was difficult to understand because of the words used or how it was written?

You can probably think of some examples you have seen in court documents.

Here are some examples of jargon:


The parties shall file at court and serve on each…
The child is habitually resident in the United Kingdom…
No order as to costs save for…
Shall not cause the child to be renamed…
An ex-parte hearing…
The parties are directed to the current guidance issued by…
To engage in mediation
The matter shall be listed for a final hearing on…

And here they are again, in plain English:

The parties must send to the court and each other…
The child’s ordinary/usual place of residence is the United Kingdom…
There is no order (for either party) to pay costs except…
Must not change the child’s name…
A no-notice hearing…
The parties should read the current guidance from…
To go to mediation…
A final hearing for this case will be on…

When jargon is used, not only does it hinder the understanding, it can also make it difficult for the person reading it to know what course of action they should take.

Your court paperwork

When preparing your paperwork for your hearing, it is important to make sure that you write in plain English so that a judge can quickly and easily understand the points you are making, and understand exactly what it is you are asking the court to do and why.

By making that sure your documents are written in plain English you will help your case. It makes sense to do as much as possible to help the judge and help yourself.

5 ways to avoid jargon and confusion

Here are 5 ways to avoid jargon and make sure that your position statement, witness statement, chronology and any other documents you work on are clear:

  1. Write in language that comes naturally to you.  Try not to adopt a ‘legal’ tone in your writing, unless this is the way you would normally write.  Remember you will be referring to your documents when in court and you want to be able to understand exactly what you mean and explain what you have written.  If it is unclear to you then it is probably unclear to anyone else, including the judge and the other party.
  2. Use a spellcheck tool and a grammar tool to check what you have written.  Do this after you have finished writing, and again if you make changes.  If you know someone close to you who is good at spotting errors (and is not a party to the case), ask them to read it for you.  This will give you another opportunity to make sure that you have said what you intended to say and that what you have written is clear and can easily be understood.
  3. Check for any rogue words that have appeared in your work – words that you would normally not use, that you are not comfortable with using.  If in doubt, leave those words or sentences out.  Replace them with something else that is clear and less cumbersome.
  4. After you have finished writing and checking the information in your paperwork do not send it to the court straight away!  Instead, put it aside for a few hours or, ideally, for a day before you re-read it.  You are likely to find errors or spot details that you need to change.  Taking time away from the documents means that when you return to them, you will have a more critical eye and will be more likely to spot any problems.
  5. Read what you have written out loud.  This will be a further way to find errors and to check that what you have written is what you intended to say.

Copyright © Going to Court Alone – Debbie Thomas

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