You are here

MoJ decides against bilingual juries in Wales

9 March 2010

The government has decided not to give criminal defendants in Wales the right to trial by a bilingual jury.

Despite strong support for the move in Wales, the government said today that it would have undermined the principle that jurors are randomly selected from the whole community.

A spokesman for the MoJ argued that, according to the 2001 census results, 21 per cent of people in Wales said they could speak Welsh, and a later MoJ report on diversity in the jury system in 2007 found only six per cent of those summoned for jury service were “fluent in Welsh”.

The spokesman said most Welsh speakers lived outside the main population centres, raising the prospect of having to transfer trials or require jurors to travel outside the usual catchment areas.

He cited a decision of the Irish Supreme Court in 1999 that there was no right under the Irish constitution to be tried by an Irish-speaking jury.

Justice minister Claire Ward said: “This decision comes down to a choice between two good and desirable things – the principle of random selection in the jury system and greater use of the Welsh language in court.

“Being tried for a serious offence by one’s fellow citizens is an important right, and juries should be randomly selected from the whole community. It has been our consistent policy to strengthen this principle in the interests of social inclusion and justice.

“Participants in criminal and civil trials in Wales have the right to use the Welsh language in court, and the government pays for interpreters to support this right. This reflects our commitment to the principle of a bilingual Wales.”

The MoJ launched a consultation on the use of bilingual juries in Wales in 2005.

Roy Morgan, chairman of the LAPG and based in Cardiff, said he was “very sympathetic” to the majority of respondents to the consultation who wanted bilingual juries.

“Translation is not the same as having the case dealt with in the same language,” he said. “Welsh is a healthy language and a lot of people will be shouting if there is no option to have cases heard in their own language.”

Morgan said his firm provided civil legal aid telephone advice in both languages.

Rhian Davies, senior partner of Pembrokeshire firm Lowless & Lowless, said she was surprised the government thought they were not able to offer the option of a bilingual jury.

“You have the right to have your case heard in Welsh, with a Welsh-speaking judge and counsel,” Davies said. “It can’t be beyond the wit of man to have bilingual jurors.”

Categorised in:

Local government Courts & Judiciary