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Chilcott and UN1441

UN 1441 was not crystal-clear, but it should have been

Plain English Campaign was shocked to hear the frequent mention of the words ‘lack of clarity’, ‘unclear’ and ‘ambiguity’ during the Iraq war hearing. The investigatory panel and Lord Goldsmith were referring to the wording in documents, central to decisions for participation in the Iraq war.

The lack of clarity in the documents was not helped by the use of jargon like ‘automaticity’ and inappropriate use of legal terms like ‘material breach’. According to Lord Goldsmith, the ambiguous interpretations from translating the French words ‘se prononcer’, to either ‘consider’ or ‘decide’, had a major bearing on the need for a second resolution.

Lord Goldsmith said, “They could have said ‘decide’ if they had wanted to.”

Lord Goldsmith stated that UN 1441 was confusing and could have easily been interpreted in different ways.

(You can download the full text of United Nations Security Council resolution 1441 from this page.)

He continued, “At the end of the day you can’t throw up your hands and say, ‘I don’t really know what this means’”.

Chrissie Maher, OBE and founder of Plain English Campaign said, “Plain English is about clarity with no room for ambiguity or multiple interpretations. This hearing is telling me our soldiers went to war because those with the power let their egos and jargon get in the way of understanding and good judgement. It’s crystal-clear to me that words cost lives.

I started this campaign in the hope that at least one person would have the confidence and courage to admit when they do not understand language given to them.”

Plain English Campaign has been fighting for the past 30 years against the unnecessary use of jargon and legalese in all public information. The campaign believes it is the right and responsibility of every individual to receive and use language that is appropriate for the intended audience and can be read, understood and dealt with first time round.

Marie Clair, spokesperson for Plain English Campaign said, “People all over the world have to deal with the poor communications that affect their daily lives, but to have this very obvious example resulting in such painful and worldwide action is heartbreaking.”

View the Telegraph's coverage of this issue.

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