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19 April 2017

Urgent Radical Legislative Intervention is Needed to ensure Multilingualism Within the Judiciary

19 APRIL2017

The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) has noted with concern media reports about the resolution adopted last month by the heads of courts declaring English as the only official language of record in all courts in the Republic of South Africa.

PanSALB is of the view that the rights of South African to access justice in the language of their choice has been somewhat taken away. This move contravenes the Use of Official Languages Act, 2012 and Justice Department’s language policy passed last year, which recognises three official languages nationally as well as the languages spoken regionally.

“If our languages are to survive, an urgent radical legislative intervention is needed to ensure that we do not continue to undermine and marginalise African languages,” said Dr Rakwena Mpho Monareng, Chief Executive Officer of PanSALB.

This may include the use of regional languages in the proceedings of the courts. Over and above interpreting services, simultaneous translation can also be provided under certain conditions.

Language proficiency should also be among the criteria for appointing judges. Multingualism must be a requirement for newly appointed judges. Our view is that this is first and foremost a question of principle that the highest courts in the land should reflect South African values, one of which is linguistic plurality. It is also a question of individual rights: South Africans have the right to be heard in the language of their choice. We believe there are many opportunities today for judges and magistrates to learn more than two official languages (preferably Indigenous South African Languages), other than their mother language, before they are appointed to the Court.

Language has for a very long time been a critical factor influencing education outcomes and as determinant of academic performance and that has affected the majority in the country. Therefore, it is time we correct that from the ground and South Africa can learn from countries like Canada where multilingualism is the order of the day in the judicial system

PanSALB is in a process of engaging the Office of the Chief Justice on this matter.