Legal code

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The Devil’s Advocate

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How about this for a project: Reduce the potential logic of legal contracts down to set of linguistic expressions or axioms. There are surely only a certain number of propositions that are articulated in a normal legal contract. Even if there is an indefinite set of axioms, the number of common axioms must be finite and relatively manageable. So take industry standard contracts, for example, and reduce them to those propositions. These axioms can be agreed, open-sourced, even if the articulation of them on a contract is not.

So, to take Section 2(a)(i) of the ISDA Master Agreement:

Each party will make each payment or delivery specified in each Confirmation to be made by it, subject to the other provisions of this Agreement.

might become

{subject|Each party} {commitment|will} {action|make each payment or delivery specified in each Confirmation to be made by it}, {condition|subject to the other provisions of this Agreement.}


{subject|all} {commitment|must {qualifier|absolute} } {action|pay {conjunction|or} deliver} {object|obligations in Confirm} {condition|subject to {target|Agreement} } 

The point being that “agrees to”, “will”, “shall”, “must”, “is obliged to”, “shall be obligated to”, “shall unconditionally be obligated to” and so on all code back to “{commitment|must}”. The commitment tag has a limited number of operators: say, “must”, “must not”, “may” and has a potential qualifier (the default would be “absolute”; alternatives “reasonably”, “best efforts”) and so on.

Ideally a lawyer would be able to code from principles.

I don’t think you would need to describe the complete set. Even if you only had subject, object, commitment it could reduce a lot of crap.

So the question is, is this possible? Is this Bertrand Russell folly? Esperanto?

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