The Importance of Plain Language

A national conference is taking place this week in Montreal called “Explaining the Law to Others: Message Received… and Understood“. This event is focusing on the importance of plain language in communicating the law. People attending include lawyers, judges, government communication specialists, academics, and non-profits involved in communicating the law. These varied groups are connecting to look at how we can communicate more clearly to our diverse audiences, be they clients, the courts, decision-makers, or the public.

One of the requirements for resources on the Clicklaw website is that they are written in clear language. The concept of clear or “plain language” has been around for decades. But there are signs that we’re reaching a tipping point in seeing plain language become a more prominent part of the discussion in the legal field. Just last month, the United States passed the Plain Writing Act which requires government forms to be written in plain language.

Clicklaw and sites like it continue to grow quickly, suggesting the public is hungry for plain language information about the law. This conference, attended by 300 people and the first of its kind in Canada, brings together so many perspectives, and is another step toward making legal information easier to understand. It’s great to see this happening at a national level, and to connect with others involved in plain language from across the country. Thank you for hosting this, Nathalie and team from Educaloi!

Educaloi will have information about the conference proceedings available in the near future. We’ll post a link to them on the Clicklaw blog when they’re released.

Artists’ Legal Resources

The Vancouver International Film Festival started last week, and it reminds me that Clicklaw now has some great new resources from new contributor Artists’ Legal Outreach:

“Art can get messy. The Artists’ Legal Outreach can help. We are a group of volunteer lawyers and law students committed to working with artists and arts organizations. We offer resources, workshops and clinics where artists can meet confidentially with an experienced lawyer. Every artistic discipline is welcome, all for the price of a donation.”

In Solve Problems on Clicklaw, we now have links to the Artists’ Legal Outreach Resource Library, an online searchable database containing articles, legislation and sample legal documents related to arts, entertainment, business, and intellectual property law.

In addition to the Resource Library, we also have links to their resources on trademark & copyright, public art, and the Olympic and Paralymic Marks Act

And on the HelpMap under phone/web services, we have a link to information about their Artists’ Legal Outreach Legal Clinic.

Parenting After Separation Program Expands

Parenting After Separation HandbookThe Parenting After Separation program expanded on October 1, 2010 to four new mandatory PAS sites (Campbell River, Courtenay, Penticton and Vernon) in the Provincial Court.  In addition, the Ministry of Attorney General is  promoting voluntary participation in PAS for Supreme Court litigants.  These free, three-hour sessions are offered in 17 locations in B.C. and help separating and divorcing parents ensure their decisions take into account the best interests of their children.  Sessions also inform parents very generally about the litigation process and about non-adversarial options for resolving issues involving children. 

The program has been offered for more than 12 years by the Ministry of Attorney General.  Ministry evaluations show: participants are very satisfied with the program; fewer cases proceed to court as a result of attending a session; and cases that do proceed to court resolve with fewer appearances.

Click on the link at the top for more information on how to find the program in your community. You can also check out these Parenting After Separation resources on Clicklaw.

Shoplifting and Scary Letters

“I was caught shoplifting, and now the store has sent me a letter demanding money. Can they do this?”

We’ve posted a common question on Clicklaw about “civil demand letters”. These are letters sent by stores to people who have been caught shoplifting, telling them they have to pay the store money. A CBC report this summer, “Retailers demand shoplifters pay security costs“, drew attention to this practice. Some stores send a letter to shoplifters demanding that they pay money to the store to cover costs relating to theft and fraud, such as paying store security.

Finding Probate Forms Online

“I’m applying for probate; where can I find the forms required?”

One of the most common questions we get at the Courthouse Library is: where can I find the documents needed to apply for probate?

Depending on the type of assets in an estate, the executor of a will may need to apply for probate in order to distribute the estate. The probate procedure includes submitting special forms and the original will to the Probate Registry of the Supreme Court. There are a number of forms and considerable detail involved. Many of the forms have been affected by recent changes to the Supreme Court Civil Rules and Forms.

We’ve posted a new “common question” on Clicklaw called “I’m applying for probate; where can I find the forms required?“.  The answer includes direct links to the forms required for a typical probate application.

For more detail on the documents required, an excellent resource is the BC Probate and Estate Administration Practice Manual, published by the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC. The Manual is available at Courthouse Libraries across BC, as well as in many public libraries in the province.

New BC Law on Impaired Driving

“What’s the legal limit in BC?”

As of September 20, 2010, there are serious consequences if you’re caught driving with a blood-alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08. These include steep fines, having your licence suspended, and even losing your car. Administrative sanctions will apply if:

  • You are caught driving with a blood-alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08, or
  • You are caught driving with a blood-alcohol content above 0.08, or
  • You refuse to provide a breath sample.

For a brief summary of the changes to the law, check out the Drinking and Driving Dial-a-Law factsheet on Clicklaw (scroll towards the bottom).

For more detail see this information on Clicklaw from the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

And for those of you who are looking for even more detail, the amending legislation is the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act 2010, S.B.C. 2010, c. 14. The sections that come into force on September 20, 2010 are sections 2, 3, 6, 7(c), 10 to 12, 14, 15(b) to (e), 19, 24, 25 and 28.

So if you’re planning to have a drink, remember these new rules. Better yet, just call a cab.

Mothers Without Status

A woman on a temporary student visa comes to Canada to study. During her time here, she has a baby with her new boyfriend. But the boyfriend becomes abusive – she wants to leave him and return with her child to her original country. Can she do this? What are her legal rights? As a service provider, how would you begin to direct her to the help she needs?

One of Clicklaw’s newer contributors, the YWCA Vancouver, tackles this complex issue with a project funded by the Law Foundation of BC called the Mothers Without Status Legal Project. “Mothers without status” refers to single women with children living in Canada, who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents. Many of these women have fled their relationship because of abuse.

During the course of this project, staff interviewed almost two dozen women in this type of situation to get a full picture of the multiple challenges they face. As a result of these interviews, the YWCA identified the need for a new resource, and published a booklet called Mothers Without Status: Practical information for service providers working with women who have no legal status. This 26-page booklet provides practical legal information on how service providers can help these women to navigate the immigration and family law systems in Canada.

The YWCA will be publishing the full results of their research project within the next few months – look for it on Clicklaw in the Reform & Research section.