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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title IV - Making Parliamentary Information Easily Accessible

Sec. 32. Using Plain Language

Parliament shall ensure that legal or technical language does not serve as a barrier to citizens seeking to access parliamentary information. Parliament has a duty to develop plain language summaries and other simple tools to make parliamentary information readily available and understandable to a broad range of citizens.

To enhance citizen understanding of parliamentary information, parliaments should ensure that legal or technical language are clearly explained and do not pose a barrier to participation. This point was recognized bluntly by the President of the European Parliament, who said, “There is no point in putting a report adopted in plenary online if no effort is made to explain it.”[1] The World e-Parliament Report 2010 notes that “[proposed legislation] is usually drafted in legal language that can be difficult to understand,” but that “A number of parliaments have begun to recognize the importance of providing explanations of bills and legislative actions in language understandable to citizens.”[2]   The European Parliament’s OPPD has noted that: “Parliaments need to determine what resources they have internally for developing this type of material (press offices, libraries, research services) and also make decisions about their willingness to link to other external resources that can provide explanatory information.”[3]

Explanatory materials to simplify legalese in parliamentary information, at this point, are only used ‘always or most of the time’ by about 36% of parliaments surveyed in the World e-Parliament Report 2010.[4] Countries continue to make strides toward this goal, particularly in developed countries. The European Union’s new law on parliamentary information specifies that “legislative texts should be drafted in a clear and understandable way.”[5] In Norway, surveys were conducted to examine the extent of this problem, and found that one-in-three Norwegians had difficulty understanding official government documents. This resulted in the introduction of a government-wide project, the Plain Language Project, with the aim of making public documents more clear and concise, particularly in regards to documents relating to legislative work.[6] 

[1] Jeffrey Griffith, Beyond Transparency: New Standards for Legislative Information Systems, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, June 2006, p. 138.

[2] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 62.

[3] OPPD, Information and Communication Technologies in Parliament, European Parliament, August 2010, p. 28.

[4] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 62.

[5] Public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, P7_TA-PROV0580, A7-0426/2011, Rapporteur: Michael Cashman, 12a

[6] Klarsprak, Plain Language in Norway’s Civil Service, Accessed 6/12/2012.