Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters War of the words

Might doctors follow lawyers in plain English campaign?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 04 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3556
  1. Daphne Perry, writer and trainer1
  1. 1London SW19, UK
  1. daphne.perry{at}

Spence’s article has a parallel in the legal world.1

In 1983 the Law Society Gazette published a letter from a surveyor complaining about legalese in leases and asking if they couldn’t be written intelligibly. John Walton, a solicitor working in local government, replied by inviting readers to join him in forming an organisation devoted to plain legal English, subscription £5 (€5.8; $7.6). He began by sending them a newsletter. The next year, Clarity held its first annual meeting. At the 1987 annual meeting Richard Wydick of California, author of Plain English for Lawyers, was the guest speaker and became the 400th member.

Clarity is now an international association promoting plain legal language, with members in more than 30 countries. The newsletter has grown into a journal and a website ( We hold regular meetings in London and an international conference every other year to share ideas and inspiration for what is still a minority interest among lawyers. Membership (still only $35 a year) is open to anyone interested in plain language in the law.

Is there an equivalent for plain language in medicine? Is there a reader who would like to set one up? Clarity in the law is very important. Obscure legal advice is bad for business and undermines our rights. Obscure laws and court documents undermine the rule of law. But when medical documents are obscure they can threaten life and health.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3556


  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • DP is UK representative of Clarity.


View Abstract