Legislation and Language Project

At the Sir William Dale Centre, Professor Helen Xanthaki and Dr Giulia Adriana Pennisi have come to explore the crossroads between legislative drafting and language/linguistics.

Clarity - Andrew Motion poem - UKSC


Mind of justice - Andrew Motion poem - UKSC

In particular, Dr Pennisi has opened a new agenda: the use of teachings from her own discipline of linguistics in applications useful and relevant to legislative drafting. An example of this work so far has been a workshop on Legislative Drafting and Language that took place at the IALS on 27 June 2013 and witnessed the participation of eminent scholars and experts in the field of law and language.

Three important themes have been discussed in the workshops:

  1. Legislative Drafting and Linguistics - Strategies to Communicate the Law
  2. Linguistics and Law Reform
  3. Law and Translation

Legislative drafting and language flyer

The First Session was chaired by Hayley Rogers (Office of Parliamentary Counsel) and the two speakers Richard Heaton (First Parliamentary Counsel) and Maurizio Gotti (University of Bergamo) were asked to talk about the quality of legislation and the intrinsic drafting difficulties. In fact, the implementation of legislation may be significantly influenced by a range of "filtering agents" at whom legislation is directed and who may constrain, adapt and modify the intentions that form the basis of the legislation as initially conceived.

The Second Session was chaired by Jonathan Teasdale (Sir William Dale Fellow) and this time the two speakers Vijay K. Bhatia (City University of Hong Kong) and Adrian Hogart (Senior Parliamentary Counsel, Law Commission) were asked to discuss the theme of Law Reform and investigate the way meaning and text functions develop or might evolve in the process of text production. Effective legislation is more likely to be achieved when the efficacy of the drafted legislation is tested by linguistic and discoursal analysis of its outcomes. Without the possibility of immediate linguistic exchange, law reform may certainly lose a great deal of its potential and valuable results.

Then, the Third Session chaired by Thomas Glyn Watkin (Cardiff University, former First Welsh Legislative Counsel) developed around the theme of Law and Translation and the two speakers William Robinson (Associate Research Fellow, former Law Reviser, European Commission) and Ingemar Strandvik (European Commission) arrived at the conclusion that "Law and translation" is, indeed, a complicated issue raising many questions confronting lawyers and translators currently acting across national borders, who face issues such as the quality of legislative drafting in the EU and the need to identify the drafting aspects of language and discuss its use in legislation by reference to problems of translation in legal documents.

The number of attendees was incredibly high and popular demand has been very vocal in calling for more of these sessions of dialogue between drafters and linguists. Most of the workshop speakers have enthusiastically answered to our call for a publication of their contribution in a paper and the proceedings have been published in Theory and Practice of Legislation Journal in Volume 2, Number 2, November 2014.

Conference speakers

Image of participants at the conference

Wide angle view of the IALS Council Chamber with participants and speakers in view

The Legislation and Language Project, therefore, aims at gathering scholars and researchers who are interested in the field of law and language in order to share their knowledge and expertise. They are invited to send emails to Dr Giulia Adriana Pennisi who will act as a coordinator of the project and are very welcome to take part in the annual meetings and seminars that will be organized at the IALS and which will be properly announced.

The main themes that will be explored are briefly outlined as follows:

  1. How Linguistics may be of some help for the Legislative Drafters who want to know how a piece of legislation is structured in terms of the lexico-grammatical and discoursal features and the extent to which its goals will be reached.
  2. How Linguists and Legislative Drafters may co-operate in order to have a better legislation. Without the possibility of an immediate linguistic exchange, Law Reform may certainly lose a great deal in terms of its potential and valuable results.
  3. How Linguistics might be of some help to Legal Translation. Legal Translation entails a basic knowledge of the legal systems involved and, familiarity with the relevant terminology and competency in the specific legal writing style of the target language. In the context of increasing communications, therefore, a dynamic model of translation becomes crucial.

The questions and the answers that will be provided in the future will definitely affect the quality of legislative drafting.

The aim of the Legislation and Language Project is to have started a profitable co-operation between Linguists and Legislative Drafters in terms of the analysis of the drafting aspects of language and the discussion of their use in legislation.

Page last updated: 17th February 2021