Court of Appeal upholds Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737

As the BBC notes the Court of Appeal has rejected a legal action claiming that the Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737, which specifies that all proceedings in NI courts must be in English, was discriminatory and breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

And UTV has extensive quotes from the ruling

Lord Justice Girvan ruled: “Conferring on individual litigants a right at their option to convert court forms from English into a language not understood by the vast majority of intended recipients would frustrate the interests of justices.

While it will always be the case that in a pluralist society such as Northern Ireland there will be some people who may not understand English or would prefer to speak another language this cannot entitle them to require prescribed forms and applications to the court intended to inform the court and the other parties to be translated into their own preferred language which is not readily comprehensible to the intended recipients.” [added emphasis]


Lord Justice Girvan, sitting with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justice Coghlin, said the Act had not been shown to be incompatible with any of Mr Cathain’s Convention rights.

Although he acknowledged the requirements did treat English speakers differently from non-English speakers, the judge held this was “manifestly necessary and proportionate in a democratic society“.

He said: “In a jurisdiction where English is the language of the overwhelming majority of the population the requirement that court documents initiating proceedings be in English as the working language of the court is a practical necessity in the interests of fairness.” [added emphasis]

Lord Justice Girvan stressed that non-English speaking witnesses in proceedings must be entitled to give evidence in their own language through a translator – otherwise their right to access to the courts would be “illusory”.

However, he emphasised the present position that English is the working language of not just the courts but nearly the entire population.

Even if Article 6 and 14 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) were engaged in this case no breach of the appellant’s Convention rights has in fact occurred,” he said.

The appellant has not demonstrated any Convention incompatibility in the 1737 Act“.

Lord Justice Girvan added: “At common law English is the working language of the court and this will remain so unless and until the matter is changed by statute“.

Any change in law would itself have to be compatible with the Convention rights of litigants.”

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