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Language and transformation of the legal system

issued by the
on 24 January 2005

Executive summary

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:

  1. 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.

  2. If someone who is involved in a case does not understand one of the languages used, an interpreter should be provided for that person.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 were interpreted.

  6. Information that must be provided to someone by the court should be provided in a language or languages that the person understands.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

Issued by:

Mhlobo Jadezweni (chairperson),
Alet van Huyssteen (vice-chairperson),
Annette Humphries Heyns (treasurer),
Gerrit Brand (secretary),
Werner Scholtz (media liason officer),
Pedro Dausab, and
Zanele Mbude

on behalf of the Multilingualism Action Group (i-MAG)

  • For the full Afrikaans statement, click here
  • For the executive isiXhosa statement, click here

    LitNet: 24 January 2005

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