Throughout the United Kingdom there are many different languages being used daily. In some parts of the Kingdom, native languages are allowed to be used in the Courts but here in Belfast this is not allowed. In Wales you could speak Cymraeg (Welsh) and in Scotland it is possible to use Gàidhlig (Scots Gaelic), but here in Northern Ireland it is impossible to use Gaeilge (Irish).
What is the reason?
Put simply it is the Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737. Or is it as simple as that? The Act in question when you read actually says that
To remedy those great mischiefs, and to protect the lives and fortunes of the subjects of this kingdom more effectually than heretofore from the peril of being ensnared, and brought into danger, by forms and proceedings in courts of justice in an unknown language, . . . all writs, process, and returns thereof, and proceedings thereon, and all pleadings, rules, orders, indictments, informations, inquisitions, presentments, verdicts, prohibitions, certificates, and all patents, charters, pardons, commissions, records, judgments, statutes, recognizances, bonds, rolls, entries, fines, and recoveries, and all proceedings relating thereunto, and all proceedings of courts-leet, courts-baron, and customary-courts, and all copies thereof, and all proceedings whatsoever in any courts of justice within this kingdom, and which concern the law and administration of justice, shall be in the English tongue and language, and not in Latin or French, or any other tongue or language whatsoever, and shall be written or printed in a common legible hand and character, and not in any hand commonly called Court-hand, with the like way of writing or printing, and with such abbreviations, as are now commonly used in the English language, and with the like manner of expressing numbers by figures as have been heretofore or are now commonly used in the said courts respectively; any law, custom, or usage, heretofore to the contrary thereof notwithstanding; and all and every person and persons, who shall write or print any of the proceedings, or other the matters or things above mentioned, in any hand commonly called Court-hand, or in any language except the English language, shall for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of twenty pounds . . .
So it is impossible to use any language other than English in the courts in Northern Ireland?
A brief look on the NI Courts Service website produces the a Code of courtesy on the use of Irish in official business. Also available in Irish (Cód cúirtéise ar úsáid na Gaeilge i ngnó oifigiúil)
In this Code of Courtesy Section 17 says
17. The Charter obliges departments to accept written applications in Irish.
Yet when Caoimhín Mhic Ghiolla Chatháin, an Irish speaker and Irish musician from the Shaw’s Road Gaeltacht decided to apply for a licence to organise a function in the Cultúrlann Mac Adam Ó Fiaich, his solicitor sought to apply in Irish.
Naturally Caoimhín felt that the provisions of the Belfast Agreement would protect his right to use his native language. Sadly this was to prove not to be the case.
The Northern Ireland Courts Service is hampered by the provisions of Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737. Despite the provisions of the Belfast Agreement, this Act is yet to be repealed.
When will Her Majesty’s Government repeal this Act that is the last to be repealed of a similar set of laws passed in the 1730s throughout the now United Kingdom. One of these was the Proceedings in Courts of Justice Act 1730, this was repealed by the Civil Procedure Acts Repeal Act 1879.
One wonders why the equivalent Act of the old Irish Parliament has not yet been repealed? Perhaps, it is through lack of parliamentary time? Or is it something worse… the continued lack of recognition for those who usually speak Irish?
Whilst the Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737 continues to be in force, Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom appears to be not only breaking the terms of the Belfast Agreement, but not treating Northern Ireland in the same way as the rest of the Kingdom. It seems that it would be sensible to have an Irish Language act, one proposal for this can be found on Pobal’s website.