Farewell to Professor Peter Butt
24 June 2008
The Sydney Law School held a special morning to farewell Professor Peter Butt, who recently announced his retirement.
Peter joined the Law School in 1975 and was a number of new appointments made between 1974 and 1977 following the retirement of Professor Ken Shatwell as Dean in 1974, including the late Professor Alice Tay and Professor Richard Vann.
A well respected authority in land law, native title and legal drafting, Peter is a dedicated proponent of plain language for lawyers, and when interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2006 in relation to his book Modern Legal Drafting, stated:
"Lawyers write in a very wordy and pompous style. There is no justification for that nowadays. Lawyers should consider that the way they write is important for their clients. They can write in simple, modern English if they tried.
"Further, Lawyers use humungous sentences. I have seen one of 1299 words. I've seen judges use sentences of well over 100 words in their judgements.
"Even if the content is fairly straightforward, the sheer length of the sentence makes it impenetrable.
"In addition, I've found words dating back to the 1660s, although it's more common to find words from the 1800s still being used in legal documents.
"Historically, lawyers were paid by length which is why they use four words where one will do. It says no more but justifies a larger fee, perhaps.
"Also, the role models that students follow are judges and judges, with all due respect, don't write very well. The other role models are academics and they're not good writers either."
The Dean, Professor Gillian Triggs, in announcing his retirement stated, "Peter is a graduate of the Sydney Law School and a fine scholar who has been with us for many years, making a significant contribution to the Law School and legal education.
"We wish him the very best and hope he enjoys his well-earned retirement."
Professor Peter Butt pictured with Patricia Lane of Melbourne Law School (left) and Ross Anderson of Sydney Law School (right) at his farewell.
Peter added, "Thank you very much to all with whom I have worked over the past years - nay, decades.
Contact: Greg Sherington
Phone: +61 2 9351 0202