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Tradition and Change in Legal English

Verbal Constructions in Prescriptive Texts


Christopher Williams

In this volume the author examines verbal constructions in prescriptive legal texts written in English. Modal auxiliaries such as shall, may and must are analysed, as well as indicative tenses such as the present simple, and also non-finite constructions such as the -ing form and -ed participles. Results are based on specially compiled corpora of prescriptive texts coming from a wide range of English-speaking countries and also international organizations such as the European Union and the UN. The author also analyses the nature, extent and impact of the calls for change in legal language coming from the Plain Language Movement. Although legal language tends to be depicted as being highly conservative and unchanging, the author shows that in certain parts of the English-speaking world a minor revolution would appear to be taking place, while in other parts there is greater resistance to change.


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2.1. Sunset legislation 91


In such cases the use of the present perfect suggests that the signing of the text has current relevance with respect to its enactment. 2.1. Sunset legislation As was briefly outlined above, one notable exception to the general concept that a prescriptive text has permanent validity is constituted by so-called ‘sunset laws’ which automatically terminate at the end of a fixed period unless they are formally renewed. Sunset laws were first introduced in the United States in the 1970s as a means of imposing a limit on the life of executive or advisory bodies (often known as quangos) that had been set up.26 Colorado was the first US state to investigate the possibility of using this kind of legislation to control its public bodies. The Colorado Act of 1976 provided for the automatic extinction of thirteen regulatory and licensing agencies in 1977 unless their continued existence could be justified. Since then many other States have enacted sunset laws. If the legislature does not act to continue the agency, it automatically terminates or 'sunsets'.27 So-called ‘Sunset Committees’ have been set up to review each year the operations of state agencies scheduled for review in the sunset law or in the agency’s enabling law. Sunset legislation has now been adopted in the US to cover a wide range of issues, such as the phasing out over a two or three year period of the use of toxic chemicals in public buildings, grounds, parks, schools and roadsides adopted by the City of San...

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