Keeping Up Textual Appearances: The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001
In legal discourse and practice, concerns regarding the appearance of text focus almost exclusively on questions of legibility. There is little analysis of law’s textual form beyond matters of practical readability, indicating an underlying assumption that printed words are merely a vehicle for the transmission of law’s intellectual content. However, the UK’s Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 (SI No 561) (the ‘2001 Regulations’) prescribe the detailed regulation of the visual appearance of registration marks (or number plates) beyond that required for their practical operation. Through analysis of these regulations, this paper overturns the assumption that the significance of textual appearance is purely pragmatic by demonstrating the widespread importance of the visual form of writing within the regulatory praxis of the modern state—of which registration marks are a part. When we read the law, when we encounter a regulatory text, we are not just decoding intellectual content but are witnessing the appearance and repetition of sovereign power.