Legally speaking : the potential for a "plain English" movement in the Winnipeg Juvenile Court

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Smith-Gadacz, Trudie Faye
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This thesis examines the potential for a "Plain English" movement in the Winnipeg juvenile court in the Province of Manitoba, Canada. The writer perceives that there is a failure of communication between the juvenile and the court which has resulted from the use of legal language or legalese. The degree of understanding of the language used in juvenile court proceedings, from the juvenile's perspective, needs to be assessed. The juvenile's understanding of the legal process is evaluated through the administration of an interview schedule. In addition to interviewing juveniles, probation officers, defense counsel and juvenile court judges are also interviewed to determine their role in the explanation process of the legal language to which the juvenile is exposed and subjected. Thus this study has four parts. Five hypotheses are set forth. Specifically, a juvenile's understanding of legal language is dependent on his/her contact with (1) probation services, (2) defense counsel,and (3) the judge's explanation of the language, process and procedure of the court. In addition, (4) time spent in custody is believed to affect understanding. Finally, (5) a juvenile's sense of justice (fairness) is thought to be affected by his/her understanding of legal language. In general, the data support the hypotheses. It is concluded that there is indeed the potential for a "Plain English" movement in the Winnipeg juvenile court. Certain recommendations are made which are believed to contribute to the juvenile's understanding of legal language.