Students have been making huge progress by studying classical languages, writes Michael Sheridan

It’s all Latin to everyone at first so training is crucial

It’s all Latin to everyone at first so training is crucial

It is the responsibility of any profession to attend to the education and training of its future members. Words, written and spoken, are mainly what lawyers bring to the market place and language skills are of first importance. It was therefore of interest to note that school students were making years of progress in just a few weeks by engaging in the study of Latin and Greek.

This finding by Northumbria University researchers, reported on 28 December, was very old news indeed. I remember reading many years ago that the study of Latin in certain New York schools not only advanced students’ reading ages by many years but also reduced the incidence of gun crime in the classroom.

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The study of these languages is a cheap, accessible and infallible aid to the education of our youth. One has to wonder therefore why the study of the classical languages has all but been eradicated from our school curriculum.

The criticism is offered that Latin is a dead language of no relevance to the 21st century. Young persons should now be encouraged to express themselves in dynamic, living language, making up new expressions and attaching smiley faces as they let it all out. That may well be wholly appropriate at playtime and in creative study classes. Discipline, however, requires discipline. The most fundamental discipline required for the study of law is objective, transferable communication in which the meaning intended by the author is as close as possible to the meaning received, especially if the recipient is a judge.

Latin, as a so-called dead language, is a fixed medium which, if it did not exist, would require to be invented. Apart from its general educational value, it facilitates communication not only between 21st century lawyers, but also, through the law reports, between and among lawyers of different times, countries and jurisdictions.

This is not to suggest the survival of the rule of law depends upon all people, or even all lawyers, learning to speak Latin. It does mean, however, that the operation of the rule of law and the achievement of justice will be greatly assisted by all lawyers and educated persons in general being able to understand those expressions drawn from the Latin language which identify fundamental and essential legal principles. ‘Per stirpes’ identifies an important, well-established direction for the distribution of estate through family generations but which would require far lengthier wording if it were to be stated in plain English. These expressions litter law reports accumulated through the centuries. If we lose the understanding of key terminology, we will lose much of the value of that accumulation.

Our Society therefore calls upon the educational boffins to consider rebranding the curriculum for excellence as a curriculum primarily for the advancement of literacy and numeracy and secondarily for the application of these skills to scientific and liberal studies in general. Then we would hope that the excellent standard of recruits which we have received into the profession during the two decades of my involvement in legal education and training will be maintained into the future.

• Michael Sheridan is secretary, Scottish Law Agents Society


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