Plain language as a requisite for an effective access to justice

AutorMaría Victoria Feito Torrez
Feito Torrez, Plain language as a requisite for an effective access to justice
Plain language as a requisite for an effective
access to justice*
By María Victoria Feito Torrez
No defendant should face the kafkaesque specter
of an incomprehensible ritual which may terminate
in punishment” (“Carrion vs. The United States”)
1. Introduction
There is this scene in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where La
Esmeralda is taken to be judged for the murder of the man she loved. The scene de-
velops as follows: La Esmeralda, after being tortured to force her to confess to the
murder, and after actually confessing as a means to escape the torture, now sits before
the judges. The courtroom is full, the noise is constant. The judges discuss with each
other: they talk about the gipsy girl, but not to her. She cannot comprehend what they
are saying, and they would not listen to her version of the events.
At this point, the man she was being judged for murdering, having healed satis-
factorily from his wounds, and being now in perfect health, enters the courtroom. He
had heard a trial was going to take place, but did not know the matter of the conflict
was his death. The judges see him walk into the room, and briefly discuss whether
they should close the case or carry on with it. At last, they decide that Justice was
above the facts, and condemn La Esmeralda to be hung.
Victor Hugo wrote this novel –and this scene– to make a point about Medieval
justice: If governments of any type exercise their power detached from the people,
such exercise will lead to absurdities. This was one of the claims of the French Revo-
lution, the context in which Hugo wrote The Hunchback. And even though our current
social and political situation is different from that of the times before the Revolution,
the scene in the novel is not completely foreign to us. More often than not, people who
approach Justice to find a solution to their conflicts find instead that the first conflict
they need to face is not understanding what Justice is telling them.
2. The need for a plainer legal language
a. What do we mean by “plain language”?
This work1 points toward a need for a plainer legal language: a legal language
that is not a wall between those seeking justice and justice itself. We, as Law
* Bibliografía recomendada.
1 This work stems from another work on the subject I have written which, although in spanish and
from a different perspective, also points toward a need for a plainer language in the legal field. See: La
violencia implícita del lenguaje jurídico: un obstáculo en el acceso a la justicia, “Revista Pensamiento
Penal”, 2019,

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