[Sansad TV] Mudda Aapka: SC Judgments in Regional Languages

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Context

  • The judgments delivered by the Supreme Court will now be translated into four languages —Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati and Odia — Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud informed.
  • We must understand that the language which we use namely English, is a language which is not comprehensible, particularly in its legal avatar, to 99.9% of our citizens, said CJI.
How Lord William Bentinck transformed judicial functioning in India?
language

·         Bentinck was the governor-general of Bengal (1828–33) and of India (1833–35).
·         Under him, the four Circuit Courts were abolished and transferred the functions of the abolished court to the collectors under the supervision of the commissioner of revenue and circuit.
·         Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat were established at Allahabad.
·         He made the Persian and a Vernacular language for the court proceeding in lower court and made English language as official language for Supreme Court proceeding.
·         During his reign, Law commission was set up by Macaulay which codified the Indian laws.
On the basis of this commission, a civil Procedure Code of 1859, an Indian Penal Code of 1860, and a Criminal Procedure Code of 1861 were prepared.

CJI pitches for judgements in regional languages

  • Expert committee under Justice Abhay Oka: A committee has been formed, headed by SC Judge Abhay Oka, to translate the judgments into four languages. CJI also intends to appoint retired judicial officers, apart from translators, for verifying machine translation of the Supreme Court judgments.
  • State-wide translations: It has a mission that every high court across the country should will have a committee of two judges, one of whom should be a judge who is drawn from the district judiciary “because of their sheer width of experience”.
  • AI-based translation: CJI further said that they are also developing a software and setting up a team where machine learning for translation of the SC judgments will be used.

Why such move?

  • English barrier: The use of obsolete, archaic or old English words which have passed from the English language but have been kept alive by their frequent use in the Legal profession.
  • Excessive use of jargons: The use of Latin, and sometimes French, words, and phrases to express a rule, principle, doctrine, maximum, etc. which can be easily phrased in English
  • Legal language complexities: The practice of assigning common English words a new, different, unusual and purely legal meaning or assigning these words some exclusive legal definitions.
  • Attitude of legal professionals: The ridiculed tendency of legal professionals both lawyers and judges to write often long and complex sentences without any punctuation.

Why is English such prominent legal language in India?

  • Better than legacy language: 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.
  • Codified laws and legal system: The British introduced a codified system of law in India with English as the official language.
  • Creating cohesiveness: 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.
  • Ease of legal education: Without the use of English, it would be impossible to discharge their duty. All judgments of the Supreme Court are also delivered in English.

Need for such reform

  • Creating awareness: The judgements should be converted into other regional languages so that the masses can benefit and the true meaning of legal education can be achieved.
  • Create law abiding citizens: Obscurity of law creates complexity. If law is comprehensible to the common man, it will have a positive impact.
  • Removing language barriers: Masses in India has always been uncomfortable with English language despites its popularity in education system.
  • Promoting multilingualism: Ever since the introduction of New Education Policy, the centre has been very active in promoting multilingualism across the country.

Various provisions for regional languages

  • India Constitution: Article 348(1) provides that all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in every High Court shall be in English language until Parliament by law otherwise provides. Article 348 (2) provides that the Governor of the State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorize the use of the Hindi language or any other language used for any official purpose of the State.
  • Official Language Act, 1963: The Act reiterates this and provides under Section 7 that the use of Hindi or official language of a State in addition to the English language may be authorized, with the consent of the President of India, by the Governor of the State for the purpose of judgments, decrees etc. made by the High Court for that State. No law has been made in this regard by the Parliament so far.  
  • Law Commission of India: The 18th Law Commission Report on “Non-Feasibility of Introduction of Hindi as Compulsory Language in the Supreme Court of India” (2008) has, recommended that the higher judiciary should not be subjected to any kind of even persuasive change in the present societal context. The Government has accepted the stand of the Commission.
  • Demand from various States: The centre has received proposals from the Government of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Karnataka to permit use of Tamil, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali and Kannada in the proceedings of their respective High Courts. The use of Hindi has been authorized long back in the proceedings as well in the judgments, decrees or orders in the High Courts of the States of Rajasthan, MP, UP and Bihar.

How can this be achieved?

  • Encourage local languages: The need of the hour is to encourage local language in courts, which will not only increase the confidence of common citizens in the justice system, but they will feel more connected to it.
  • Executive-judiciary liaison: The confluence of the judiciary and legislature will prepare the roadmap for an effective and time-bound judicial system in the country.

Way forward

  • The language of law should be cleaned up so that any person of average intelligence can understand its meaning.
  • The legal language can be simplified by using the following steps.
    • It should be insisted that the laws written by the legislatures can be made understandable to average laymen as well as to the legal professional
    • These laws must be written in non-technical terms
    • Legislatures should use short sentences with adequate punctuation
    • Use of Latin and French phrases should be abandoned
    • Use of obsolete archaic English words should be abandoned and at last, the same meaning of words should be applied to those legal terms as the same meaning in common usage

Conclusion

  • It is true that language acts as a barrier in the spread of Legal education however language barrier coupled with professional barrier acts as the real challenge.

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