If you’ve ever felt bewildered by legalese and found it far removed from Plain English, take heart: you’re in good company. Court of Appeal judge Sir Alan Ward recently heard a case revolving around the Council Tax liability of a family living on an old tug boat, the Cannis. One factor having a bearing on the decision was “hereditament”. Having struggled to find an intelligible definition/explanation of this term in the statutes, Sir Alan commented:

If prizes are to be offered for legislative gobbledegook then the foregoing would surely qualify. Having undertaken that trawl through these various statutes I confess to my shame I am no wiser nor would any ordinary citizen be without help from the Practice Note. [my italics]

So judges can be just as flummoxed as we are by legal jargon. Here is one of the “astonishingly informative” definitions Sir Alan was referring to:

(1) An hereditament is anything which, by virtue of the definition of hereditament in s. 115(1) of the 1967 Act, would have been an hereditament for the purposes of that Act had this Act not been passed.

So now you know.

If you’ve got time, read through the judgment. It’s long and complex, but fascinating, with occasional touches of (very dry) wit. And if you don’t have time, at least read paragraph 30 (having first read paragraph 4, to get the reference). It’s good to see a judge with a sense of humour and who can turn a nice pun.

With thanks to Joe Ury of BAILII

By Marian Dougan


2 Responses to “Making sense of legalese. Not.”  

  1. 1 Sarah Fox (@500wordlawyer)

    Great article highlighting the dangers of “legislative gobbledegook” for those who need to understand it.

    PS this is a short judgment by most standards!

  2. 2 Marian Dougan

    Thanks, Sarah! (more brevity…)

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