Language in Court

Language in Court

News: Recently, the Gujarat High Court has asked a journalist facing contempt of court proceedings to speak only in English as that was the language in the higher judiciary.

Background:
• The language used in Courts in India has seen a transition over centuries with the shift from Urdu to Persian and Farsi scripts during the Mughal period which continued in subordinate courts even during the British Rule.The British introduced a codified system of law in India with English as the official language.
• Post-independence, Article 343 of the Constitution of India provides that the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in the Devanagari script.
• However, it mandated that the English language will continue to be used for all official purposes of the Union for 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution of India.
• It further provides that the President may, during the said period, by order to authorise the use of the Hindi language for any official purpose of the Union, other than the English language.

About:
• Article 348(1)(a) states that unless Parliament by law provides otherwise, all proceedings before the Supreme Court and in every High Court shall be conducted in English.
• Article 348(2) provides further that notwithstanding the provisions of Article 348(1), the Governor of a state may, with the previous consent of the President, authorise the use of Hindi or any other language used for any official purpose, in proceedings in the High Court.
• States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have already authorised the use of Hindi in proceedings before their respective high courts and taking a cue, Tamil Nadu is also working in that direction – to authorise the use of Tamil before its high court.
• A further provision states that nothing in this clause would apply to any judgement, decree, or order made by the High Court.
• Therefore, the Constitution recognizes English as the primary language of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, with the caveat that when some other language is used in the proceedings of High Courts, judgments of the High Courts must be delivered in English.

Significance of using English:
• Just like cases from all over the country come to the Supreme Court, judges and lawyers of the Supreme Court also come from all parts of India.Judges can hardly be expected to read documents and hear arguments in languages with which they are not familiar.Without the use of English, it would be impossible to discharge their duty. All judgments of the Supreme Court are also delivered in English.
• Though, in 2019, the Court introduced an initiative to translate its judgments into regional languages, it is rather a tall order given the sheer volumes of judgments which the Court delivers.
• At present the judicial system in India is well developed, integrated and uniform throughout the country.
• Lawyers as well as the judges have the benefit of easy access to the views of other high courts on similar legislations and other matters of law and constitution.
• Presently, the judges from one high court are transferred to other high courts seamlessly.
• This has given a unified structure to the Indian judicial system. The hallmark of any robust legal system is that the law should be certain, precise and predictable and we have nearly achieved that in India.
• To a very great extent, we owe it to the English language, which has served as a link language for India where we have about two dozen official state languages.

Official Languages Act 1963:
• It empowers the Governor of a state to, with previous consent of the President, authorise the use of Hindi/the official language of the state, in addition to English, for the purpose of any judgement, decree or order passed by the High Court of that state.
• It further provides that where any judgement/decree/order is passed in any such language it shall be accompanied by a translation of the same in English.Read with the constitutional provisions, it is clear that primacy is given to English even by this Act.The Official Languages Act makes no mention of the Supreme Court, where English is the only language in which proceedings are conducted.  
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