Faculty of Law at The University of Hong Kong launched for the first time in Asia a dedicated course in legal and legislative drafting to undergraduate students in the second semester.
The course teaches students how to compose coherent and unambiguous legal text, and how to structure legal documents to ensure maximum comprehensibility. It includes an examination of the principles of statutory interpretation that influence the judicial interpretation of legal documents, and shows how to use those principles to ensure that legal documents will be given their intended meaning if challenged before the courts. Legislative and contractual provisions are also analysed in class, as a way of identifying and correcting typical drafting errors. Students are required to draft or redraft legal provisions and short legal documents as a way to master different aspects of drafting.
Through a combination of lectures, assignments, exercises and in-class review of assignments and exercises, attending students have mastered the skills required to draft complex legal documents, and improved their skills at analysing legislative and contractual provisions. They learned by way of problem solving to identify drafting problems that reduce comprehensibility or create ambiguity, and apply the principles of good legal drafting to correct these defects. With enhanced legal research skills, they are able to identify problematic provisions in statute databases of a variety of different jurisdictions. They are also capable of communicating complex legal concepts clearly and unambiguously, and using correct grammar and language suitable to complex legal documents and legislation.
Because the preparation of legal documents is essential to many areas of legal practice, students who have participated in the course should be better prepared to handle the real-world challenges that they will face as practising lawyers. In addition, their ability to identify sources of ambiguity in legal documents will assist them in their analysis of such documents and improve their ability to challenge contractual or statutory provisions on behalf of their clients.
The pioneering legal and legislative drafting course was convened by Mr. Paul Salembier. Mr. Salembier also teaches legal drafting at Queen’s University, Canada and is a consultant on drafting legislation and advising clients on legislative initiatives. In 2014, he was invited by the Law Drafting Division of the Hong Kong Department of Justice to conduct a law drafting course for law drafters on fundamental techniques and principles in legislative drafting.