March 27, 2018
During its March term, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted the Illinois Supreme Court Policy on Plain Language (Policy) which had been submitted for the Court's consideration by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (ATJ Commission). The ATJ Commission believes the Policy will further the goals of the ATJ Commission to assist self represented litigants.
The most recent strategic plan for the ATJ Commission was built around certain core principles. The first principle, as set forth in the ATJ Commission’s 2017-2020 Statement of Principles, is a “Plain Language Principle,” which provides:
“[C]ourt users should have access to a wide variety of plain language resources designed to help them understand and exercise their civil and procedural rights and reduce the number of barriers encountered while using the court system.”
The use of plain language by the courts to describe legal information helps the public understand important legal rights and allows them to make more informed decisions as to their cases. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 15% of adults born in the United States are proficient at completing complex and challenging literacy tasks, which include court activities like completing forms, collecting financial information or evidence or preparing to speak in court. This finding demonstrates the need for plain language information.
As required by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 10-101, the ATJ Commission uses plain language in the development of standardized forms. Similarly, the Policy would provide guidance to judges, court staff, circuit clerks, law librarians and other justice partners in developing written materials for use by self represented litigants or when communicating to the public about legal information, court process, rules and forms. The Policy is intended to be aspirational, not punitive, with the goal of encouraging judicial branch staff to use plain language whenever practicable.
The Policy will become effective on April 1, 2018. A plain language guide, as referenced in the Policy, will be published later this year.
This Policy underscores the Supreme Court's commitment to making Illinois courts accessible and fair to all.