Just the other day, I was wondering why we still use the term “Plaintiff” in Malaysia. I asked a few people but they didn’t know either so I had a quick look on Wikipedia and discovered the following:

The word “plaintiff” can be traced to 1278 and stems from the Anglo-French word pleintif meaning “complaining” from pleint.

Given the above, the word “Plaintiff” (evolving over the years and taking into account the current rate of inflation) might well mean “Complainant”. Today, an example of a how an average Statement of Claim might read is as follows:

The Plaintiff claims damages against the Defendant for loss of appetite due to the Defendant forcing the Plaintiff to watch far too many documentaries on cruelty to animals.

Apart from the fact that I can’t draft very well, I think that’s inaccurate.

If one is a “complainant”, surely one would be “complaining”. It would make more sense to say:

The Plaintiff is complaining that he has lost his appetite due to being shown too many documentaries on cruelty to animals.

The word “Complain” means to “express dissatisfaction or annoyance”. It has its origins in the medieval Latin complangere, which is a combination of com meaning “expressing intensive force” and plangere meaning to “lament”.

The word “Claim” is from the Latin clamere which means “call out”. It generally means “to state or assert that something is the case” and can mean “a formal request or demand”.

Given the above, “Complaining” is surely not the same as “Claiming”.

In England, the term “Plaintiff” has been replaced with “Claimant”. Which makes more sense, if you think about it. If you are making a claim, you are being assertive, and expecting something to be done about whatever it is you are asserting.

I don’t know why we have stuck to “Plaintiff”. Do you? I thought about it a little more over the weekend and I really don’t think it’s just semantics. I shall now attempt to tell you why I think we ought to sort it out:

Observe Exhibit A. We have a Plaintiff/Complainant who feels he is not getting a decent amount of fishballs in his noodles*. His friends are equally annoyed, and it is the same record playing every afternoon where they sit around complaining about Fishball Noodle Aunty. One day, sick and tired of rationing his fishballs every lunchtime, he decides to litigate. He calls his lawyers, and takes Fishball Noodle Aunty to court. She is, after all, in breach of Section 52 of the Fishball Noodles Act 2005, which states that “every bowl of Fishball Noodles in West Malaysia shall be served with at least 5 fishballs of reasonable size”.

(*Statistics show that one in three Malaysians are addicted to fishballs. It is the springy texture that triggers the happy hormone in the brain. Depending on which scientific journal you choose to read, the sensation has been described as akin to popping ecstasy due to the sudden release of serotonin in the brain when the average Malaysian sinks their teeth into a fishball. Some eminent members of the medical profession have even begun studying the curious pattern of Malaysians adopting a favourite stall and then developing a specific addiction to the fishballs therein.)

Now, the Plaintiff/Complainant’s Statement of Claim should read as follows:

The Plaintiff is complaining that the Defendant is in breach of Section 52 of the FNA 2005.

All appears to be in order, except the thing with simply complaining, is that it leads nowhere. There is no remedy to be had. If anything, the Complainant will be banned from the stall for life. (This may in turn lead to severe withdrawal symptoms ranging from gum disease to sudden death.)

Juxtapose that with Exhibit B, the Claimant, who is expecting something to be done by voicing his concerns over the fishball count. He’s not just thinking of himself and a potential lunch deal with Fishball Noodle Aunty. Oh no, he is thinking of the hoards of fishball addicts who flock to Fishball Noodle Aunty every lunch time for their daily fix. Our Claimant, a model Malaysian, is hoping that his efforts will encourage all the Fishball Noodle Aunties in West Malaysia to mend their wicked ways and abide by the law, which guarantees every Malaysian the right to at least five fishballs in every serving.

The Claimant’s lawyer, also looking ahead, drafts his Statement of Claim as follows:

The Claimant claims that the Defendant is in breach of Section 52 of the FNA 2005 and seeks an injunction restraining the Defendant from further depriving her patrons of their rights under the Act.

Isn’t that a little more effective?

The Claimant’s friends think he is insane.

“What is the point of going after one Fishball Noodle Aunty when ten others will continue to deprive us of our rights? Lets just complain and then forget about it. It’s easier that way. Or lets just order two bowls and only eat the fishballs.”

They may be right, but I don’t think they are. As can be seen from the (credible) example above, a little change is capable of transporting a mere complaint into the spotlight, transforming it along the way into a matter of public interest, which can then be dealt appropriately, benefiting everyone.

And that is why I think we ought to sort it out.

Lawyer joke I heard this week:

Q: How do you get a bunch of lawyers to smile during a photo shoot?

A: “Say FEES!”

8 replies on “Plaintiff v Claimant”

  1. You are letting the terms dictate the actions. Thus, you are playing the legalist game of inverting logic. Whatever the term used, "Someone violated my right and want him/her held accountable.. PERIOD!!!

  2. Why can't Plaintiff/Complainant/Claimant be just Penuntut, whether drafting in English or Malay? Can't it be our Malaysian version of Plaintiff?

    I mean if the freakin English can say that Plaintiff is too French and not English enough and change it to blardy Claimant, why can't we say Plaintiff is not Malaysian enough so we gonna use Penuntut?

    I personally think we should just change the Malay spelling to Plaintiff as well. At least it doesn't look like a cheap knock-off! We should just pronounce it the Malay way ala baku with the extended eff at the end.

    And Defendan can be Defendant, pronounced the same baku way, with the nice little 't' sound at the end.

    At least we showcase our Malay pronounciation izzn't it? Rather than just look like cetak rompak pirates. Hey, its not our fault that you guys came up with a word for it first before us! But we'll just pronounce it the way we pronounce here back home ok, thank you very much…

    Malaysia Rocks!!

  3. using the word "Complainant" makes the Plaintiff sound like a compulsive whiner….

    the "Claimant" is far more appropriate. it shouldn't be pihak menuntut, but rather just "Penuntut".

    I still prefer "Plaintiff" though… it sounds far more neutral. i mean you can claim for damages but you don't claim for declaratory relief… such abstract reliefs….

    so yeah… while them lads in england… try to simplify the languange for lay persons… can it also be included in this discussion that "common sense" applies…

  4. Hi Ms Shanmuga,

    OK, if we're being serious…

    I am not convinced. I don't think it is a useful starting point to say that "Plaintiff" came from "Complaint" and deduce from that that he is merely "complaining". When reasonable people complain, they normally want something done about it and will work towards that goal. So if I was served a dud dish in a restaurant, I complain about it and if the restaurant is serious about keeping my business, it will remove the dish from the bill, etc. So if Aunty has breached the FNA 2005, I complain to the Court so the Court will do something about it.

    Per my reasoning above, why can't a complainant seek a remedy? If Plaintiff = complain, why can't the Plaintiff plead as follows?

    "The Plaintiff complains that the Defendant is in breach of the FNA 2005 and seeks an injunction restraining the Defendant from further depriving her patrons of their rights under the Act."

    By any rule of language, the act of "seeking" is not restricted to someone who adopts the nomenclature of "Claimant." After all, one does not have to "claim" an injunction.

    It is also worth noting that other major common law jurisdictions, such as the USA and Australia, have maintained "Plaintiff."

    Oh, and if you "complain and forget about it", modern English has terms for that too: "whinge" or "b*tch."

    "Plaintiff" is miles away from that.

  5. There you go! Good one June. So now shall we lobby to change 'Plaintiff' to 'Claimant'?

    Shan, 'Kleman' sounds err… nevermind. I think the equivalent is 'Pihak Menuntut', but thats mouthful…

  6. Loyar Bagus. See the light lah .. become a LoyarBurok! ;) Anyway, please refer to Loyar Burok's raison d'etre. This is a classic case of a serious issue being put forward in a tongue in cheek manner.

    Excellent article June. I am convinced – we should change it to "Claimant". But what about the Malay equivalent? Penuntut? Kleman? Pihak Menuntut? Your researches into this will be much appreciated.

  7. Sorry Ms Low,

    Not trying to be rude, but is this article meant to be a gee-up or is it supposed to be serious?

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