The Supreme Court of India launched the Electronic Supreme Court Reports (e-SCR) project to provide a digital version of the Supreme Court’s judgments with the main objective to make judgments available to all, for free, in regional languages.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud said, “English language in its ‘legal avatar’ is not comprehensible to 99.9% of the citizens”. During an event, he also indicated that in the quest for increasing accessibility, the next step for the Indian judiciary would be to make judgments from various courts available in all regional languages of India.
This step was also lauded by the Prime Minister who appreciated the CJI for his endeavor to make judgments available in all Indian regional languages. Former President, Ram Nath Kovind has also highlighted the need to render judgments in regional languages for the benefit of non-English speakers.
Use of Hindi and regional languages
Article 348(1) of the Constitution of India provides that all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in every High Court shall be in the English language until Parliament by law otherwise provides.
Article 348(2) provides that decrees, judgments or orders passed in the proceedings of the High Court shall be in English. The Governor of the State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorize the use of the Hindi language or any other language for any official purpose of the State, in the proceedings of the High Court.
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, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. 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, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Government of India had 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 the Madras High Court, Gujarat High Court, Chhattisgarh High Court, Calcutta High Court and Karnataka High Court respectively.
The advice of CJI was sought on these proposals as per a decision of Cabinet Committee taken in 1965 which provides that comments of CJI are necessary before considering any proposal for use of Hindi or any regional language in the proceedings of a High Court. However, in 2012, CJI informed that the Apex Court, after due deliberations, decided not to accept these proposals. Since then the Government has abided by the decision of the Supreme Court.
Need for Judgments in regional languages
Language is a mode of communication and expression. It is also vital in collecting information and engaging in meaningful conversation. Moreover, language has been central to education and played a determining role in make it accessible.
Judgments in regional languages will not only help people who are from a law background but also persons who are concerned with the matter but not conversant with the language of English or know very limited about law and the Constitution. This will provide them the accessibility to read comments or opinions of the Supreme Court and understand the legal reasoning behind such decisions.
The need of having judgments in regional languages stems from the fact that not every litigant is an English-speaking individual and, hence, wouldn’t have enough access to the legal system. This increases their reliance on people who know the law to understand what happens in courtrooms and what courts say in their orders.
Thus the availability of Supreme Court judgments in regional languages will help them understand the important judgments and interpretation of the law by the apex court. This will also be an important step in making justice more accessible. Removing language barriers is integral to ensuring people with limited or no English proficiency to receive a fair trial.
To bridge the information gap and overcome the linguistic barrier, technology is being used by the Supreme Court in making available its Judgments in four regional languages for citizens. Legal English and legal terms in English Judgements are not understood by most citizens and thus few selected judgments have been translated since its announcement.
According to CJI Chandrachud, “Access to justice cannot be meaningful unless citizens are able to access and understand it in a language which they speak and comprehend”. The CJI explained that apart from integrating machine learning tools to translate the judgments, the Court is also resorting to employing retired judicial officers to verify the correctness of the translation.
The judgments of the Supreme Court were announced to be translated in four languages– Hindi, Gujarati, Odia and Tamil to bridge the gap and remove the barrier of language in justice delivery.
The translation work is being ensured by a committee chaired by Justice Abhay Oka. These judgments are made available on the apex court website, its mobile app and on the judgment portal of the National Judicial Data Grid. On the 74th Republic Day, 1091 judgments in regional languages were launched and vernacular Judgments are available on the Supreme Court websites. At this stage, there is no doubt that this step would prove to be instrumental in not only attempting to remove the barrier of language or defeating language elitism but would also significantly impact people’s right to access justice.
Namrta is a graduate and post-graduate from National Law Institute University, Bhopal and is currently working as an Assistant Professor of Law at SVIL, Indore.
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