The Importance of a Comma - Why Grammar Matters to Solicitors and why it should matter to You.

The debate still rages over that incredible England win in the Cricket World Cup Final over New Zealand - did the umpires err in their interpretation of the law and erroneously allow England to lift the trophy?

Bizarrely it could all turn on the way that the relevant law of the game is punctuated, and therefore interpreted by the umpires. And this has a very real relevance when it comes to legal documents too.

The incident

With the match finely balanced, England batsmen Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid ran two runs and, as Stokes dived for his crease to avoid a run out, the ball coming in from the fielder inadvertently struck Stokes’ bat and flew off for a boundary and a further four runs.

The debate

So was that six runs or five runs? Some interpreted the laws of the game to say the initial two runs only counted if the England batsmen crossed twice before the fielder threw the ball. They had only crossed once and therefore should only have scored one run, plus the four overthrows. Crucially, this would mean that England would have fallen a run short in their total and New Zealand would have won the World Cup.

BUT. The umpires on the field and in the heat of a tense finish ruled that the two runs stood, with the four overthrows, giving England six. A crucial decision in the context of the match. But were they right?

The law

Cricket does not have rules of the game. It has laws - and that always gets the attention of us solicitors.

So, Law 19.8 says:

Overthrow or wilful act of fielder.
If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the wilful act of a fielder, the runs scored shall be any runs for penalties awarded to either side and the allowance for the boundary and the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.
 
That final comma in this law is absolutely crucial, as is the way the law is laid out on the page and the placement of the ‘and’(s)
 
The comma clearly delineates between ‘the runs completed by the batsmen’ and ‘the run in progress’. The batsmen completed two runs, and that comes first inn the drafting of the law. What comes after that crucial comma does not qualify the part before the comma, and the use of “together with” indicates an intention that the run in progress is in addition to the completed runs, hence why it is written first.

One of the skills that we train for years in is writing, or drafting, as we call it.  We write letters, contracts, conveyances and wills and the use of language and punctuation can be incredibly important in determining an outcome. Judges can pour over sentence construction, and the placement of a comma.

That is why wills can be drafted without any punctuation, to remove ambiguity. That is why Contracts can run to many pages as the writer attempts to iron out and codify all the possible situations.

That is why you should always use a solicitor for creating documents that may have a significant impact on you, your colleagues, and most importantly your families.

We give you,  our professional advice, our expertise and our service to make sure that when we write for you, we write something that will stand the test of time (and the scrutiny of the world’s cricketing community).

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