Thursday, July 17, 2003
Judicial Council Approves Reforms to Jury Instructions
By a MetnewsStaff Writer
The Judicial Council of California yesterday adopted new civil jury instructions, the culmination of a six-year effort to replace archaic language and legalese with “plain English.”
The council, meeting in San Francisco, approved the recommendations of the Jury Instructions Task Force.
“Jurors make important and sometimes life-altering decisions,” First District Justice Carol A. Corrigan, chair of the task force, said in a statement. “It is critical that the instructions be clear so that Californians performing this important service reach informed conclusions, grounded in an understanding of the law.”
The instructions are to be available for use by jurors as early as September.
The 29-member task force of judges, lawyers, and experts appointed by state Chief Justice Ronald M. George came up with the new versions of more than 800 civil juror instructions. The current instructions were initially drafted in the 1930s.
For example, jurors have long been given the instruction: “Failure of recollection is common. Innocent misrecollection is not common.” That will soon read: “People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember.”
The task force used rules of composition developed by linguists in crafting the new instructions, and is also writing plain language versions of criminal jury instructions that are to be ready for approval in 2005.
“The new instructions provide a much needed plain-English explanation of legal principles,” Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice James D. Ward, vice-chair of the task force and chair of the civil subcommittee, said. “The task force members are justly proud of being a part of this improvement in the jury process.”
The new instructions will be available in print and electronic formats from LexisNexis Matthew Bender, the official publisher. They also will be available at no cost on the California Courts Web site.
LexisNexis is developing an interactive software program that will allow judges and attorneys to customize the new instructions to fit the facts of each case.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company