Stephen Warne on professional negligence, regulation and discipline around the world

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Practice or practise? Licence or license?

August 28th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Even judges of appellate courts and legal regulators get it wrong.  Either I am getting grumpier or the error is becoming more common: [2009] NSWCA 278; [2009] NSWCA 379; [2010] NSWCCA 6. Even Chief Justices get it wrong: [2008] NZSC 55 at [54].

‘Practice’ is a noun.  ‘Practise’ is a verb.  So:

‘The practitioner’s firm enjoys a diverse practice across the areas traditionally within the competence of the High Street solicitor.  Formerly, she practised in the Crown Law Department before moving to Abu Dhabi and practising as a sole practitioner.’

If you know the difference between a noun and a verb, it is helpful to remember that ‘ice’ is a thing, and so a noun.  But what about the practising certificate?  I have sympathy for those who are confused about this one.  ‘Practising’ it is, though.  The certificate is the thing that licenses you to be a lawyer, which brings me to ‘licence’, ‘license’ and, for good measure, ‘licentiousness’.  It is not hard to get confused about licences, because the Americans call them licenses, but once again in the Anglo-Australian tradition, ‘licence’ is a noun, and ‘license’ is a verb.

‘Licentiousness’ is so spelt, and since it involves a disregard for rules, may also claim heightened relevance for the purposes of this blog, especially in relation to the professional discipline of psychiatrists, doctors, and, overwhelmingly, dentists, who often can’t resist a bit of licentiousness with their patients and sometimes get caught.

A third set of words equally important for this blog, ‘advice’ and ‘advise’ follows the same pattern.  No one gets confused between the two, however, because they sound different as well as being spelt differently. They have a role to play though in this post, since if you’re unsure whether to write ‘practice’ or ‘practise’, you can substitute for the word in doubt the correct form of ‘advic/se’ and then go with the ‘c’ or the ‘s’ form of ‘practic/se’, as appropriate. Similarly with licenc/se.

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Tags: Legal writing