If you’ve ever read the original text of an American law or statute before, it might seem like it’s written in a completely different language. That’s because it is. Of course, it’s written in English, but it utilizes a special variation of our common tongue called Legal English in order to use the most precise language possible.
Federal statutes and regulations, as well as many state and county laws, are designed to be both as wide-ranging and specific as possible so that they may be used for years to come. These laws must be used in myriad different cases, so the language has to be both universal and particular. It’s up to the litigators in any given court case to translate it and interpret for his or her clients.
However, sometimes a legal statute is simply too vague or unclear about its meaning. This is where the litigators have their work cut out for them — these situations require delving into the statuatory history, first and foremost. This kind of legislative history has, however, sparked a debate among professionals in the legal community.
Some would argue that the statuatory history must be looked at in context of how other legal terms are interpreted. Others posit that the language should be clear enough to be understood on its own. Although, problems have been known to arise when dealing with the unique word choices and stylistic grammar of Legal English.
Scores of words in both the legal and governmental worlds come from the French language, including the term “government” itself. The French influence is also clear in the sentence structure of certain laws and statutes written in Legal English, which are often intentionally atypical in order to place emphasis on certain terms. This makes deciphering older laws, as part of statuatory history, a task in and of itself.
No matter what kind of legal research a team of professionals has to cook up, the fact is that statuatory history remains an important part of determining the intent of a law. Remember, it’s not just the bill that must be examined, but also any amendments made to it after its original passing. Statuatory history is always part of a larger narrative waiting to be uncovered.
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