Friday, June 17, 2011

Law language and hyperformalism

Been corresponding with colleagues in the Law School, who are wondering whether …
there is a special word for talking about hyperformalism in law .... you know, where the law gets so technical that it is actually undoing what it was put in place to do.
I don't know the answer, but I bet our readers (1) will and (2) can invent better answers.

Let the games begin!


Spectral Slice said...

So they are asking for a term for when legal texts become too complex? I don't think "hyperformalism" would work in this context, since if laws were written in a very formal manner they could be parsed easier.

A term from programming is "spaghetti code" for tangled, complex code resulting from long up-keep ( This question seems to fit the bill, "spaghetti law".

It would be cool if laws were written formally:
Person={human, age>0}
Assault=[P1, injure, P2, malice=YES]

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, they mean something very different by 'formal'.

Spaghetti code is beautiful, of course, and that's just how the law always looks to me. (We've been reading a lot of it here in Wisconsin with the new university legislation coming through!)

But lawyers may wig out over the suggestion of formal (as in math/logic formal) legal code. I think they mostly LIKE IT a little fuzzy.

Spectral Slice said...

So I had the opposite reaction you did. I would expect lawyers to appreciate the clarity. There's still room to finagle with evidence and rhetoric, but I'm thinking more of cases where laws have to be meshed together. Then you could perhaps get a graphical representation of how the laws interface.

For instance, when some legislation is being considered by the state, say it's something small like hunting licenses, one could take the current legislative text, integrate it with already-passed hunting law, and see its effects. Although there's probably 20 sub-tasks that would have to be sufficiently handled before you ever got a usable output.

Abhoth the Unclean said...

The problems with legal language are not related to lack of precision they are related to lack of human and societal awareness. Instead of combative argumentation we need flexibility and compassion. The spaghetti code analogy implies a similarity between a digital processor and the legal system. This returns a clear, conceptual error.