Language and transformation of the legal system
issued by the
MULTILINGUALISM ACTION GROUP (I-MAG)
on 24 January 2005
The Multilingualism Action Group (i-MAG) has noted the ongoing debate on language in our courts and the expected recommendations on a policy in this regard by a committee of judges to the Department of Justice.
- Against the background of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa,
- in the interest of the transformation of our legal system,
- with reference to the National Language Policy Framework,
- taking into consideration the Pan South African Language Board's Guidelines for Language Planning and Policy Development, and
- for the sake of a more effective and more just legal system and legal practice that embody the letter and spirit of the Constitution
we make a serious appeal to the Department of Justice and the committee of judges who must advise the Department on a language policy for the courts to accept the following as points of departure and minimum requirements for such a policy:
- Each of the 11 official languages may be used as language of communication
in all courts, by anyone, for all functions, including judgments, arguments
by legal counsel, court documents, and giving of evidence.
- If someone who is involved in a case does not understand one of
the languages used, an interpreter should be provided for that person.
- Judgments, arguments by legal counsel, court documents and evidence
are not interpreted or translated into English or Afrikaans (or any other
language) when they are given in another official language that is understood
by all those involved in the case.
- Judgments that are reported must be published in at least two official
languages, one of which should be the language in which the judgment was given.
- In cases where an interpreting service is used, minutes of the
court proceedings should be held in the language or languages in which the
proceedings took place rather than the language or languages into which they
- Information that must be provided to someone by the court should
be provided in a language or languages that the person understands.
- When appointing, promoting or placing judges, magistrates and public
prosecutors, multilingualism - i.e. knowledge of several official languages
- is treated as a strong recommendation, and consideration is given to the
languages that are strongly represented, demographically, in the area where
the person will be serving.
- When assigning cases, the judge's, magistrate's or public prosecutor's
proficiency or lack of proficiency in a relevant language or languages is
taken into account.
- A multilingualism component is integrated into the training of
legal professionals, and a multilingual requirement is included in the conditions
for (new) entrance to the legal profession.
- A well resourced and professional language unit is established
to assist the courts with the translation of court records and court documents
and the transcription of minutes as well as the monitoring and refinement
of language policy in the courts.
- More and better opportunities for training and promotion are made
available to court interpreters; the number of court interpreters is increased,
and their remuneration improved.
- Planning is undertaken with a view to the eventual use of all official
languages as mediums of instruction for legal training in tertiary educational
institutions and the provision of legal terminology and study materials in
all official languages.
- Greater accommodation and utilisation of language diversity through
the above measures are viewed and treated as an essential component of affirmative
action in the legal profession and of the transformation of the bench.
Finally, it is of the utmost importance that an inclusive and democratic process of public consultation be engaged in before any far-reaching decisions are made about language in the courts.
Mhlobo Jadezweni (chairperson), For the full Afrikaans statement, click here
For the executive isiXhosa statement, click here
Alet van Huyssteen (vice-chairperson),
Annette Humphries Heyns (treasurer),
Gerrit Brand (secretary),
Werner Scholtz (media liason officer),
Pedro Dausab, and
on behalf of the Multilingualism Action Group (i-MAG)
LitNet: 24 January 2005
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