Tanzania to adopt Swahili as the official language of its legal system

In a major decolonization move, Tanzania has drafted a bill proposing Swahili as the official language of Tanzanian law and courts. Cabinet Secretary John Kijazi notified the general public about the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill of 2021 (the Bill) according to which Swahili (Kiswahili) will replace English as the language to be used in administration and dispensation of justice.

Some of the proposed changes as reported by FB Attorneys are as follows:

    1. Proposed Section 84(1) declares Swahili as the language of the laws of the country
    2. The Bill adds Section 84A that declares Swahili as the language to be used in the administration and dispensation of justice (by Courts, tribunals and other adjudicative bodies)
    3. English may be used in the adjudication process at the discretion of the presiding officer, but the resulting records or documents must be translated and authenticated in Swahili language unlike English presently

The changes have been proposed keeping in view the widespread use of Swahili among the common public as well as the government in Tanzania. This is also an attempt to ensure that common folks will also be able to understand legal terms.

The amendments are in keeping with President John Magufuli’s call for amendments to laws and regulations so as to accommodate Swahili as the language in which court judgements would be delivered. Magufuli had asked the Judiciary and the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs to make necessary amendments to the existing laws to incorporate the national language, Kiswahili, in judicial matters.

He had opined that it was important to deliver court judgments at all levels in Swahili, which is a common language to all Tanzanians while adding that it was disappointing that even after 60 years of independence, the Tanzanian Judiciary continued to write and deliver judgments in English, which is a colonial inherited system.

Bharat could very well take a leaf out of the Tanzanian books and mull the possibility of replacing English with Bharatiya languages. Considering the easy accessibility to translation facilities the transition from English to Bharatiya languages should not be very difficult.

As per Article 343 of the Bharatiya constitution:

The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in the Devanagari script. However, it mandated that the English language will continue to be used for all official purposes of the Union for 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution of India. It further provides that the President may, during the said period, by order to authorize the use of the Hindi language for any official purpose of the Union, other than the English language.

While the apex court had asked the Central government last year to consider amending the Official languages Act to include vernacular languages in which Central government notifications would be issued, however proposals by several state governments to use regional languages was rejected by the apex court in 2016.

The Business Standard report had quoted the reply given by then Law & Justice Minister Sadananda Gowda in Loksabha:

Government had taken up with the Supreme Court of India the proposals of the Governments of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka seeking consent of the President of India for allowing regional languages in the proceedings of their High Courts. However, the Full Court of the Supreme Court disapproved these proposals.

It must be mentioned here that a 2019 decision by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi had cleared the use of indigenous translation software that allowed the court to publish judgements in five regional languages in addition to English on its official website.

The Telegraph reported:

Courts across the world pass judgments in either English or the native language. Apart from English, the Supreme Court will from now on upload on its official website judgments in Hindi, Telugu, Assamese, Kannada and Odia, apart from English. There are plans to publish judgments in other regional languages too, sources in the judiciary said.

It must, however, be made clear that in Bharat there is no provision for the use of regional languages in conducting legal proceedings as proposed by Tanzania. That would be a real step towards decolonizing Bharatiya minds where English is still regarded as a status symbol and sign of a ‘knowledgable’ person while conversing in native languages is looked down upon.

(Featured Image Source: Techbooky.com)


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