Friday, January 09, 2009

Jury Service and Language Rights

This week I received a summons for jury service in English only.

Jury service and juries are a crucial part of our civil justice system, but according to Golwg this week, a problem with the Courts Service computer programme Libra means that until September (!) summons will only be sent in English.

While Plaid have been calling for a system of bilingual juries to be formed (based on an amendment to the language criterion to the 1974 Juries Act) to allow trials to take place through the medium of Welsh, the Courts Service itself is breaking their Welsh Language Act of 1967 through failing to have due regard to the Welsh language.

As Welsh speakers are almost always fluently bilingual in both Welsh and English, the problems of institutional linguistic discrimination are almost always swept under the carpet ('they can all speak English anyway') - but it is a very serious issue that can lead to frustration, irritation and humiliation for those who are unable to use their preferred language in communication.

This is surely especially true when the organisation at fault is that which is in existence to ensure our rights as members of our society.

After gender bias, language is probably the bias which impacts upon most people in Wales (around 1 in 5) and it is in the interests of the 20% (and growing) of the population and also of those who are unable to speak Welsh that full language rights are given and, more importantly, implemented in a fair and just manner so that justice can be served, and be seen to be served.


Rhys Wynne said...

I received a jury summons to attend jury service at Cardiff. The summons was completely bilingual, apart from the form I was to give to my employer, which was in English only. As I worked for a Menter Iaith (Welsh Language Initiative) at the time, it made sense as both I and my boss spoke Welsh that we would have a form in Welsh.

As he summons was sent from a central office in London, I rang them up, requesting a Welsh version. The person I spoke to was very polite, but didn't think a form was available, but he took my details anyway. The following day a Welsh form arrived through the post, sent by the courts in Cardiff.

Maybe Wales should have it's own courts service?

But I do find the current situation where 'new software' or whatever as not being able to cope with sending things out bilingually rather strange as the older one was. Someone must have forgot to request it as part of the tender i suppose.

MH said...

There's been a general discussion on the issue here:

The Justice System is one area that is likely to be devolved to Wales over the next few years.

And bilingual juries are probably in the process of happening, but it's slow. There's a bill in the Commons now, and Jack Straw said he woud be making a statement "shortly" ... back in June!

Ian James Johnson said...

Hi Rhys,

I've previously dealt with HM Courts Service in Welsh. Well, rather, they sent me a bilingual form, I completed the Welsh side and then they phoned me up (in English) to ask me what I'd written in Welsh because it would save them in London sending it to a translator in Wales. Frankly, I was stunned.

MH, thanks for the link to Syniadau - some very interesting stuff there.

The Bill on bilingual juries fell a few years ago (all outstanding Bills fall at the end of the annual session of parliament), but I suppose it could be re-introduced if there are no further developments on the long-awaited announcement.

Plaid conference last year reaffirmed their support for the idea, so now the ball is in the government's court.