International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 22, No 1 (2015)

An empirical study of lay comprehension of Chinese legal reference texts in Hong Kong

Matthew W. L. Yeung, Janny H. C. Leung
Issued Date: 8 Jul 2015

Abstract


This socio-legal study empirically assesses the use of plain language in improving comprehension of legal reference texts by laypeople in Hong Kong, where common-law Chinese was newly engineered. Our study shows that native Chinese speakers have problems understanding the materials, but simple modifications of the texts can significantly improve their comprehension. The results suggest that the seeming incapability of expressing law in a language may not be related to the choice of code, but to how it is written. Based on the data, this study contributes to the improvement of legal communication by identifying features of common-law Chinese that make these materials difficult to understand, and proposes language-specific plain-language strategies that can improve comprehensibility.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 ) HTML (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.v22i1.17224

References


Alcaraz Varó, E. and Hughes, B. (2002) Legal Translation Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.


Apple Daily (2012) ‘Objection your honour’ two mistakes in one line, the judiciary teaching TVB how to film without misleading the audience. Apple Daily. Retrieved on 3 September 2012 from http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/news/art/20120708/16494679


Asprey, M. M. (2003) Plain Language for Lawyers. St. Leichhardt, NSW: Federation Press.


Butt, P. (2002) The assumptions behind plain legal language. Hong Kong Law Journal 32: 173–186.


Butt, P. (2005) Plain English in property law. Lawasia Journal 31: 27–38.


Cameron, C. and Kelly, E. (2002) Litigants in person in civil proceedings: Part I. Hong Kong Law Journal 32: 313–342.


Cameron, C. and Kelly, E. (2009) Principles and Practice of Civil Procedure in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Sweet & Maxwell Asia.


Cameron, C., Kelly, E. and Chiu, E. (2006) Judges’ perspectives on the impact of self-representation in Hong Kong civil cases. The Australian Journal of Asian Law 8: 261–286.


Cao, D. (2007) Translating Law. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


Census and Statistics Department (2012) Hong Kong: Facts. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. Retrieved 25 July 2012 from http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/factsheets/docs/population.pdf


Center for Chinese Linguistics of Peking University (n.d.) Modern Chinese corpus. Retrieved 27 July 2012 from http://ccl.pku.edu.cn/YuLiao_Contents.Asp


Charrow, R. P. and Charrow, V. (1979) Making legal language understandable: a psycholinguistic study of jury instructions. Columbia Law Review 79: 1306–1374. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1121842


Cheek, A. (2010) Defining plain language. Clarity 64: 5–15.


Chen, A. H. Y. (1985) 1997: the language of the law in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Law Journal 15: 19–47.


Chief Justice’s Working Party on Civil Justice Reform (2002) Civil Justice Reform Interim Report and Consultative Paper. Retrieved 10 May 2012 from http://www.civiljustice.gov.hk/ir/paperHTML/toc_ir.html


Crump, D. (2002) Against plain English: the case for a functional approach to legal document preparation. Rutgers Law Journal 33: 713–734.


DeSanto, C. and Totoro, M. (2008) Introduction to Statistics. New York: Pearson Custom Publishing.


Dumas, B. K. (1999) Jury trials: lay jurors, pattern jury instructions, and comprehension issues. Tennessee Law Review 67: 701–742.


Ehrenberg-Sundin, B. (2008) The Swedish approach to clear legislation and clear official texts. In A. Wagner and S. Cacciaguidi-Fahy (eds) Obscurity and Clarity in the Law 165–179. Aldershot: Ashgate.


Erlanger, H., Garth, B., Larson, J., Mertz, E., Nourse, V. and Wilkins, D. (2005) New legal realism symposium: Is it time for a new legal realism? Wisconsin Law Review 2005: 335–363.


Garth, B. G. (2006) Introduction: taking new legal realism to transnational issues and institutions. Law & Social Inquiry 31: 939–945. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-4469.2006.00040.x


Gibbons, J. (2002) Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language in the Justice System. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.


Hinton, P. R. (2004) Statistics Explained. London: Routledge.


Hunt, B. (2002) Plain language in legislative drafting: Is it really the answer? Statute Law Review 23(1): 24–46. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/slr/23.1.24


Judiciary Administration (2003) Paper for the Panel on Administration of Justice and legal Services Resource Centre for Unrepresented Litigants. The Legislative Council Commission. Retrieved 25 October 2011 from http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr03-04/english/panels/ajls/papers/aj1218cb2-731-4e.pdf


Judiciary Administration (2008) Subcommittee on Draft Subsidiary Legislation Relating to the Civil Justice Reform Assistance to Unrepresented Litigants. The Legislative Council Commission. Retrieved 22 September 2011 from http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr07-08/english/hc/sub_com/hs51/papers/hs510326cb2-1361-2-e.pdf


Judiciary Administration (2010) Legislative Council Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services Statistics on Unrepresented Litigants. The Legislative Council Commission. Retrieved 12 March 2012 from http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr10-11/english/panels/ajls/papers/aj1122cb2-571-1-e.pdf


Judiciary Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (2004) Guide to judicial conduct. Judiciary Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved 17 March 2015 from http://www.judiciary.gov.hk/en/publications/gjc_e.pdf


Kahn, R., Zapf, P. A. and Cooper, V. G. (2006) Readability of Miranda warnings and waivers: implications for evaluating Miranda comprehension. Law and Psychology Review 30: 119–142.


Kelly, E. and Cameron, C. (2003) Litigants in person in civil proceedings: Part II, solicitors’ perspectives. Hong Kong Law Journal 33: 585–612.


Kelly, E., Cameron, C. and Chiu, W. H. (2006) Litigants in person in civil proceedings: Part IV barristers’ perspectives. Hong Kong Law Journal 36: 519–552.


Kimble, J. (1994–1995) Answering the critics of plain language. The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 5: 51–85.


Kimble, J. (1998–2000) The great myth that plain language is not precise. The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 7: 109–118.


Kramer, G. P. and Koenig, D. M. (1990) Do jurors understand criminal jury instructions? Analyzing the results of the Michigan Juror Comprehension Project. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 23: 401–437.


Kwan, S. (2011) The dilemma of conducting civil litigation in Chinese – conversant either in Chinese or the law but not in both. Hong Kong Law Journal 41: 323–334.


Kwok, D. (2012) Poor being let down by lack of access to court services. South China Morning Post 9 October 2012: A15.


Law Drafting Division (1992) The common law and the Chinese language. Hong Kong Lawyers February: 39–43.


Leiter, B. (2005) American legal realism. In M. P. Golding and W. A. Edmundson (eds) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory 50–66. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.


Leung, J. (in press) Negotiating language status in multlingual juridictions: rhetoric and reality. Semiotica.


Martineau, R. J. (1991) Drafting Legislation and Rules in Plain English. St. Paul: West Publishing Corporation.


Masson, M. E. J. and Waldron, M. A. (1994) Comprehension of legal contracts by non-experts: effectiveness of plain language redrafting. Applied Cognitive Psychology 8: 67–85. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/acp.2350080107


Mellinkoff, D. (1963) The Language of the Law. Boston: Little, Brown.


Merry, S. E. (2006) New legal realism and the ethnography of transnational law. Law & Social Inquiry 31: 975–995. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-4469.2006.00042.x


Mindlin, M. (2005–2006) Is plain language better? A comparative readability study of court forms. The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 10: 55–66.


Ng, K. H. (2009) The Common Law in Two Voices: Language, Law, and the Postcolonial Dilemma in Hong Kong. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.11126/stanford/9780804761642.001.0001


Ng, K. H. (2011) Is there a Chinese common law? An empirical study of the bilingual common-law system of Hong Kong. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 8: 118–146. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-1461.2010.01203.x


Poon, W. Y. (2002) The Pitfalls of Linguistic Equivalence: The Challenge for Legal Translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


Poon, W. Y. (2006) The effectiveness of plain language in the translation of statutes and judgments. Doctoral dissertation, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.


Rock, F. (2007) Communicating Rights: The Language of Arrest and Detention. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9780230286504


Roebuck, D. and Sin, K. K. (1993) The ego and I and ngo: theoretical problems in the translation of the common law into Chinese. In R. Wacks (ed.) Hong Kong, China and 1997 185–210. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.


Rogers, R., Harrison, K. S., Shuman, D. W., Sewell, K. W. and Hazelwood, L. L. (2007) An analysis of Miranda warnings and waivers: comprehension and coverage. Law Human Behavior 31 April: 177–192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10979-006-9054-8


Rogers, R., Hazelwood, L. L., Sewell, K. W., Shuman, D. W. and Blackwood, H. L. (2008) The comprehensibility and content of juvenile Miranda warnings. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 16: 63–81. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0013102


Šarčević, S. (1997) New Approach to Legal Translation. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.


Schiess, W. (2003–2003) What plain English really is. The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 9: 43–75.


Schneider, E. W. (2007) Postcolonial English: Varieties around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618901


Severance, L. J. and Loftus, E. F. (1982) Improving the ability of jurors to comprehend and apply criminal jury instructions. Law and Society Review 17: 153–197. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3053535


Sin, K. K. and Roebuck, D. (1996) Language engineering for legal transplantation: conceptual problems in creating common law Chinese. Language & Communication 16: 235–254. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0271-5309(96)00017-1


Solomon, N. (1996) Plain English: from a perspective of language in society. In R. Hasan and G. Williams (eds) Literacy in Society 279–307. Harlow: Longman.


Speer, N. K. and Zacks, J. M. (2005) Temporal changes as event boundaries: processing and memory consequences of narrative time shifts. Journal of Memory and Language 53: 125–140. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2005.02.009


Steele, W. W. and Thornburg, E. G. (1988) Jury instructions: a persistent failure to communicate. North Carolina Law Review 67: 77–109.


Stygall, G. (2010) Complex documents: average and not so average readers. In M. Coulthard and A. Johnson (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics 51–64. Abingdon: Routledge.


Tang, H. W. C. (1998) Myths mar progress in bilingualism. Hong Kong Lawyers January: 20–21.


The Steering Committee on Resource Centre for Unrepresented Litigants (2002) Report of the Steering Committee on Resource Centre for Unrepresented Litigants. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. Retrieved 25 September 2012 from http://rcul.judiciary.gov.hk/rc/eng/screport/RC%20Report.pdf.


The Working Party of Final Report on Civil Justice Reform (2004) Final Report Chief Justice’s Working Party on Civil Justice Reform. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. Retrieved 26 September 2012 from www.civiljustice.gov.hk/cjr/download.jsp?FN=ir/misc/pr02_e.pdf.


Tiersma, P. M. (1999) Legal Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Wacks, R. (2005) Understanding Jurisprudence: An Introduction to Legal Theory. Oxford: New York.


Walsh, M. G. (2010) The grammatical lawyer – state plain language statues. The Practical Lawyer April: 5–7.


Wasserman, L. (2004) All of Statistics: A Concise Course in Statistical Inference. New York: Springer. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-21736-9


Wen Wei Po (2011) New education system dragging down university admission rate, students facing overwhelming pressure. Retrieved 25 July 2012 from http://paper.wenweipo.com/2011/05/18/ED1105180002.htm.


Wilkinson, M. (2000) Introduction. In M. Wilkinson and B. Jane (eds) Reform of the Civil Process in Hong Kong 1–62. Hong Kong: Butterworths Asia.


Wong, D. H. M. (1999) The myth of legal bilingualism in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Lawyers November: 31–32.


Yen, T. (1999) Law drafting in the twenty first century. Hong Kong Lawyers December: 38–40.


Yeung, M. and Leung, J. (2015) Removing linguistic barriers to justice: a study of official reference texts for unrepresented litigants in Hong Kong. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 28: 135–153. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11196-013-9345-6


Yule, G. (2010) The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511757754


Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.





Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: info@equinoxpub.com

Privacy Policy