A hill on which I’m willing to die: the use of Latin in the modern legal profession is pompous, pointless and almost always unnecessary.
And it seems that the UK ICO agrees with me. It’s been revealed that that the ICO has issued a style guide to its staff which advises them to avoid using various Latin and French words so as not to confuse or alienate readers. Words to be avoided range from the relatively commonly used (quid pro quo and ergo) to phrases spouted exclusively by insufferable first year law students (sine qua non, ex officio and a priori).
The article rolls out several talking heads, one of whom tells us that the ICO is infantilising its constituents by making no demands on their intellect. To put it in language the Latin bores (and I say this as someone who studied the subject) would understand: quod est totaliter iniuriam.
The purpose of a regulator is not to challenge or develop the language skills of those that turn to it for help. How frustrating must it be to seek to enforce your legal rights, only to receive a response you struggle to decipher. The new ICO boss, John Edwards, is doing a good job so far of making the agency more accessible and approachable, and whilst its style guide has apparently been in place for a number of years, it feels timely that it's come to light now.
More broadly, if we want access to justice (broadly defined) and to make the law less mystifying, we should drop the pretence that using or understanding Latin is a pre-requisite for joining the club. It's not; if anything, it will make you seem, well, a bit weird.
Indeed, you sometimes see a similar thing with recent entrants to the profession, who think that swallowing a thesaurus gives their writing an intellectual gravitas that will wow their supervisor and the client. Wrong. Clients are for the most part normal people; they couldn’t care less that you know your pursuants from your therewiths. Clear, easy to understand advice is what they’re after.
So that’s it – that’s the rant. We'll end on a positive note, with my favourite use of Latin in popular culture: "Sic transit gloria. Glory fades. I'm Max Fischer."
A spokesman for the ICO said: 'We avoid using foreign words in our writing as some words are uncommon and may alienate our readers. The purpose of the style guide is to ensure our written communications are clear, easy to follow and are accessible to all ICO audiences.'