Will commas and full stops give the bar and clients nightmares?

If anyone was whooping at the suggestion that all newly qualified barristers should use correct grammar and spelling it was likely to have been our prime minister.

Avid Gazette reader that I am certain she is, grammar schools advocate Theresa May will have been delighted to read that the Bar Standards Board expects all barristers to use correct grammar and spelling on ‘day one’ of being issued with their practising certificate.

The recommendations are in the BSB’s Professional Statement and Threshold Standard and Competences – a document that sets out the ‘skills, knowledge and attributes’ expected of a barrister.

You can, if it takes your fancy, read all 35 pages here.

I don’t doubt that good spelling and grammar are important in many walks of life, particularly the journalism industry – and I concede that there are ample examples of bad grammar in the media every day.

But I have trouble accepting that this is something you should be overly concerned about in most instances of seeking legal advice.

How many barristers after reading the guidelines will be frantically checking their emails in case a comma is lurking in the place of a full stop? Will they wake up in a cold sweat wondering if a client will abandon them for the incorrect use of a semi-colon?

I can see where the potential pitfalls lie, and some of those are clearly important for the legal profession. For example, quirks of the English language that change meaning or tense of a sentence when incorrect punctuation is used. Though I expect this confusion can be fairly easily rectified.

Interestingly, some of the comments on our initial story blamed poor education and a lack of confidence to correct suspected grammatical errors as reasons for mistakes slipping through the net. 

While there is a need to address this, I don’t think it’s overly bold to suggest that legal competence, good advocacy skills and actually abiding by the law are the most important attributes for our barristers.

Unless of course a barrister falls victim to confusing ‘you’re’ with ‘your’.

If that happens, then they should be instantly disbarred.

Max Walters is a Gazette reporter