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Judicial Council approves new civil jury instructions for use in California courts

The California Judicial Council last month approved new "plain English" civil jury instructions designed to simplify the often convoluted and confusing instructions used in state courts for the last 70 years.

Revision of the instructions began in 1997 with the appointment of a task force. The 29-member panel started from scratch and produced 800 entirely new civil instructions.

A new set of criminal instructions is expected to be completed in 2005.

"Jurors make important and sometimes life-altering decisions," said Court of Appeal Justice Carol A. Corrigan, chair of the task force. "It is critical that the instructions be clear so that Californians performing this important service reach informed conclusions, grounded in an understanding of the law."

A sample comparison of old and new instructions on the same subject demonstrate the new approach:

Old: "Failure of recollection is common. Innocent recollection is not uncommon."

New: "People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember."

The new instructions will be available in print and electronic formats this fall from LexisNexis Matthew Bender, the official publisher, and on the web at the California courts site. LexisNexis also will sell software to allow judges and attorneys to customize the instructions to fit the facts of each case.

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