Orders of the Day — Welsh Courts Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 14th October 1942.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Evans Mr Ernest Evans , University of Wales

Like my hon. Friend, who has worked very hard and successfully in this matter, I should like to extend a cordial welcome to this Bill. The difficulties of the Welsh people in exercising the elementary right of seeking access to the courts have been brought before the House on many occasions. I find that the matter was raised in 1872 by the late Mr. Osborn Morgan, a highly respected Welsh Member, and in 1892 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I have been asked to say how very much we regret his inability to be present to-day to extend a welcome to the Bill. Every Welsh Member is grateful to the Home Secretary for the acknowledgment he made to the great interest my right hon. Friend has taken in this matter. More recently my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) introduced a Bill similar to that which we are discussing, but unfortunately it had the fate of many other well-intentioned contributions to the legal literature of this country. Many committees and public authorities in Wales and a large number of private individuals have been pressing for this reform for a long time. Our difficulty was to make an effective approach to those in high places. Ultimately we reached the Lord Chancellor, who immediately appreciated the importance of the position and expressed sympathy and agreement with our suggestions. He in consultation with the Home Secretary set to work and Welsh Members are grateful to both of them for preparing this Bill. Like my hon. Friend, I welcome this Bill as a recognition of our rights as a distinctive nationality, but I do not wish to pursue that topic and will pass to another aspect of the matter.

There has been a tendency in references to this Bill to suggest that it is nothing but a recognition of a Welsh right and is of little practical importance. What I would emphasise is that it is of great practical importance. It is not only the monoglot Welshman who is under a handicap. For him an interpreter is provided, although in such a case there has been hardship, because often the cost of the interpreter has been put on the parties, as a rule the unsuccessful parties, to the proceedings. That was not fair, and that has now been put right. But the greater difficulty arises in the cases of the very much larger number of people who are able to carry on a short conversation in English on ordinary day-to-day matters, but who find themselves in great difficulty when they have to express themselves in English on more serious and important matters, and particularly when they are facing the ordeal of being in the witness-box on oath before a judge, and possibly a jury, and in the presence of the public. I can speak from experience of the many people whom I have seen faced with this embarrassment, from which they have suffered.

It is a natural and, within limits, a very proper desire on the part of the president of any court to conduct the proceedings as expeditiously as possible, but what happens is this: A man goes into the witness-box and answers quite easily the preliminary questions as to his name, his place of residence and his occupation. When he asks later for an interpreter the tendency has been for the president of the court to say to him, "You speak English very well, as well as I do; carry on as best you can. Do your best." That is not fair. It has created a great deal of practical hardship, and I am very glad that this Bill makes it clear that such a person is entitled in future to give evidence in Welsh. It is a very difficult thing to think in Welsh and to convey your thoughts in English, particularly when you are doing it under the stress of being a party to an action or a witness in a court of law. Therefore, I cordially welcome this Bill from the practical point of view as well as from the point of view of its recognition of our Welsh nationality. I am sure that it will do a lot not only to remove an ancient injustice but also to promote the more effective administration of justice in Wales and enhance the prestige of the courts.