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Plain English plea from 7/7 coroner

[27 March 2011] The long inquest into the London terrorist attack of 7 July 2005 has ended with a plea for plain English from coroner Lady Justice Hallett, who complained that jargon used by emergency services managers might hinder rescue work. Her remarks were provoked by the assistant commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Gary Reason, explaining how the service had replaced ‘ranks’ with ‘roles’.

Lady Hallett told him: ‘As far as I can tell, management jargon is taking over organisations and perfectly sensible, straightforward titles are being changed. This isn't just somebody being pedantic about the use of English, which it appears to be – when it comes to managing incidents, people don’t understand what the other person is. I don’t know whether a crew manager is somebody who is responsible for supplies or is used to fighting fires.’

Questioning whether another service would understand if they were told a ‘management conference demountable unit [a mobile control-room] is on the way from the management resource centre’, Lady Hallett concluded:  ‘What worries me is all you senior people of these organisations are allowing yourselves to be taken over by management jargon…I just think that you people at the top need to say we have to communicate with people in plain English.’  

She said obscure language had been an ongoing theme of the inquest. She had herself criticized a senior official from London Underground for his ‘ludicrous use of English’, and Hugo Keith QC, counsel for the inquest, had said they had been ‘treated to acronym after acronym’. Lady Hallett apologized for her ‘rant’ but added: ‘If you could do anything when you meet up with your fellow senior officers in whatever organisations to encourage the use of plain English, I, for one, would be enormously grateful and I think it would make everybody just that little bit more effective.’

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