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Language vs. Justice: How English-Only High Court Proceedings Are Sabotaging the Careers of Regional Advocates!

By Lawstreet Bharat      26 May, 2023 11:57 PM      0 Comments

The recent occurrence in the Patna High Court, where an Advocate's argument was dismissed solely due to his choice of Hindi as the language of pleading, has reignited the longstanding controversy over the dominance of English in the High Court proceedings in India. In this incident, as captured on courtroom video, Hon'ble Justice Pavankumar Bhimappa Bajanthri expressed his inability to comprehend Hindi and firmly stated that if the advocate could not articulate his case in English, his petition would be directly rejected. This predicament of language preference, a relic from colonial rule, has raised serious issues of persisting colonial mentality and unjust linguistic barriers that many face. As such, this article LawStreet Jounal will closely scrutinize the laws and case laws related to this issue to make a case against the current mandate of English monolingualism in Indian courtrooms.

1. Legal Obstacles and Inherent Injustice:
Firstly, the insistence on English usage hinders accurate communication of legal arguments, leading to frequent miscarriages of justice. This is a direct violation of the principle of fair hearing embedded in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.

2. Supremacy of Justice Over Language:
Justice must not be overshadowed by language barriers. The enforcement of English can jeopardize justice delivery, challenging the spirit of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which assures equality before the law.

3. Tracing the Colonial Hangover:
Over 75 years post-Independence, India's judicial system continues to grapple with its colonial past. The use of English, a language primarily imposed during colonial rule, is a stark reminder of this legacy.

4. Economic Disparity and Language Elitism:
The English-language mandate inadvertently favors the English-speaking elites while sidelining competent lawyers and law students from non-English backgrounds. This practice arguably undermines Article 16 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.

5. Interrogating Legal Inconsistencies:
The Official Languages Act (Provision) and Article 348(1)(a), making English mandatory in High Courts, seem to contravene Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution, which ensures the right to practice any profession. This contradiction underscores the arbitrariness of the English-language requirement.

6. Reviewing Judicial Precedents:
The SUDHANSHU PATHAK v. CONSORTIUM OF NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITIES case has questioned the absence of regional languages in legal examinations. This verdict, supporting the inclusion of regional languages, indirectly advocates for their inclusion in court proceedings.

7. Provisions for Regional Languages:
Under Article 348 (2) of the Indian Constitution and Section 7 of the Official Languages Act, 1963, the use of Hindi and other state languages is permitted in High Court proceedings. Some High Courts have already started hearing pleas in a mix of English and regional languages, indicating a nascent shift towards multilingualism.

8. The Issue of Self-Representation:
Section 32 of the Advocates Act, 1961, allows litigants to argue their own cases, provided they get the court's permission. However, the English-language mandate often compels these litigants to hire English-speaking lawyers, thus infringing upon their right to self-representation.

9. Referencing the National Education Policy:
The National Education Policy of 2020 and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, endorse mother tongue-based instruction. However, the English-only court system seems at odds with these educational reforms.

10. A.I. based Solutions:
Artificial Intelligence could be employed for language interpretation and translation in courts. This tech-based solution can minimize the bias and errors associated with human translators, thereby maintaining the authenticity of legal arguments.

In conclusion, the imposition of English as the sole language in High Court proceedings undermines India's linguistic diversity and hinders the path to justice. The urgency to embrace a multilingual approach is evident in both the spirit of the Indian Constitution and the practical implications of the law. As we move forward, it is critical to ensure that justice isn't lost in translation.

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