Common Law Legal English and Grammar – a Review

9781849465762A new monograph on legal English by Alison Riley and Patricia Sours comes from Hart Publishing. As a legal English teacher and a great proponent of plain English I approached the book with enthusiasm and desire to find some inspiration for my legal English classes, as the new academic year is about to begin.

The book is not a traditional legal English coursebook but a university textbook on legal English, explaining the intricacies of this specialist variant of the English language. The book, therefore, is addressed to rather advanced learners – from upper-intermediate to advanced level – and legal English practitioners.

The book provides the reader with a vast and thorough analysis of the legal language; however, we should not be discouraged by the 503 pages of the book, since the authors use plain English and clearly explain the features of the legal jargon.

The textbook is composed of six parts. The first one presents features of the English language used within common law contexts as well as internationally. The remaining five parts cover the language of different areas of law, which include: legal system and the British constitution, international treaties, human rights and European Integration, criminal law, tort law and contract law.

Each part of the book is divided into three chapters: (1) Language and Law, (2) Legal Grammar and (3) Consolidation.

The author of Language and Law chapters, Alison Riley, builds a foundation of legal knowledge for each area of law, explains the basic legal concepts and introduces technical language of the law. The author achieves her aim through the presentation and explanation of the legal concepts in context (e.g. cases, judgments, analysis of authentic excerpts from legal documents, literature, etc.). These chapters offer also lexical tasks through which the readers examine and analyse legal vocabulary in context, interpret the meaning of legal terms and learn how it may change in various contexts (e.g. between civil and criminal law).

Legal Grammar section prepared by Patricia Sours provides the learners with the knowledge on punctuation in legal texts, basic sentence structure, verb forms, word formation, adverbial clauses and nominal structures. The author illustrates her notes with examples extracted from authentic sources and provides opportunities for practice in tasks accompanied with the key which saves teacher preparation time and makes the book a self-study manual.

Each part of the book end with Consolidation usually containing five to six tasks in which the learners can test and expand their knowledge of legal vocabulary, practice defining technical terms, form collocations as well as test reading comprehension skills. Key to consolidation tasks is also provided.

“Common Law Legal English and Grammar” is definitely the title to remember for those interested in not only learning legal English terminology but also understanding the usage of the legal terms of art in context. The authors teach the readers legal terminology but also equip them with legal knowledge. They use brilliant and memorable examples to illustrate the use of language, selecting them from the history of common law but also literature and news satisfying in this way the tastes of both lawyers and linguists.

I will strongly recommend the book to my colleagues – legal English practitioners – as well as my most ambitious and linguistically advanced law students.