If, Where and When
The use of where to state a case or condition is archaic and appears legalistic to non-legal readers and if is generally recognized by English speakers as introducing a condition in everyday usage. Since it is often difficult to express the difference between case and condition, and since if can be used for both, if will be correct in any event. It precludes the need to make the distinction between case and condition and is preferable in the interest of clarity.
If can almost always be used to introduce a case or condition in legislative texts. However, when is the more appropriate choice when time or timing is important to the rule, when describing a rare or once-only situation or when there is some certainty that an event will occur. We can usually reserve where to introduce adverbial clauses that refer to a specific physical place. This does not preclude the use of “where”, “in cases where”, or “in circumstances where” when they seem more logical and natural in the particular context.
Examples of "if":
- If the third party has consented to the disclosure, the third party is deemed to have waived the requirement.
- If a complaint relates to a request for access to a record, . . .
- If any person proposes to construct or alter any work . . .
- If the Governor in Council believes on reasonable grounds that . . .
- If the verdict that the accused is unfit to stand trial was returned after the close of the case for the prosecution, . . .
Examples of "when":
- When a person dies, . . .
- When a licence expires, . . .
- Except when otherwise provided, . . .
- When the surface of a manoeuvring area or a part of one is snow-covered or otherwise unsuitable for painting, . . .
- When a training phase is completed, . . .
Examples of "where":
- An air carrier must give a safety features card to every passenger on board any aeroplane operated by the air carrier, at the place where the passenger is seated.
- . . . the indicating instrument located in an approved position on the instrument panel where it is plainly visible to and usable by any pilot . . .
As an alternative to the use of too many ifs in the same provision, consider restructuring the text to clarify the relationships among the conditions.
- When a runway is closed, the operator of the aerodrome must place closed markings on the runway as follows:
(a) if the runway is greater than 1 220 m in length, . . .
- If a restricted area pass has been designed to be worn on outer clothing, no person shall enter or remain in a restricted area unless the pass is visibly displayed on their clothing in a place where the pass is designed to be worn.
- If a court imposes a fine, the court shall not, when the sentence is imposed, direct that the fine be paid without delay unless . . .
Perhaps using more than one subsection to express the above would result in a simpler text overall.
- Driedger, Elmer. The Composition of Legislation. Ottawa: Department of Justice, 1976.
- Garner, Bryan. A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
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