Theoria: An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science

Volume 9, Issue 2, Septiembre 1994

Layman E. Allen, Charles S. Saxon
Pages 135-172

Controlling Inadvertent Ambiguity in the Logical Structure of Legal Drafting by Means of the Prescribed Definitions of the A-Hohfeld StructuralLanguage

Two principal sources of imprecision in legal drafting (vagueness and ambiguity) are identified and illustrated. Virtually all of the ambiguity imprecision encountered in legal discourse is ambiguity in the language used to express logical structure, and virtually all of the imprecision resulting is inadvertent. On the other hand, the imprecision encountered in legal writing that results from vagueness is frequently, if not most often, included there deliberately; the drafter has considered it and decided that the vague language best accomplishes the purpose at hand. This paper focuses on the use of some defined terminology for minimizing inadvertent ambiguity in the logical structure of legal discourse, where desired by the drafter. The current set of signaled structural definitions that are included in the A-Hohfeld language are first set forth and their use is illustrated in an extensive example from the treaty establishing the European Economic Community. The use of definitions in legal writing is widespread, but addressed almost exclusively to controlling the vagueness of substantive legal terms; they are seldom used for structural purposes. Furthermore, their use in American legislative drafting is unsignaled. Here, attention is devoted to the relatively-neglected domain in legal discourse of imprecisely expressed logical structure, and the remedy offered, where desired by the drafter, is a set of signaled structural definitions for use in controlling such imprecision.