Administration of Justice  (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737

Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 26th April 2010.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 3:00 pm, 26th April 2010

1. asked the Minister of Justice whether he has any plans to repeal the Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737. (AQO 1106/10)

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

The Act to which the Member refers is the subject of legal proceedings. We expect that the judgement of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal will be made shortly. In the meantime, when a party to legal proceedings is unable to speak English, he or she is able to use their own language in court with the services of an interpreter. More generally, the Assembly knows that language is a cross-cutting issue on which policy needs to be agreed by the Executive. I will wish to discuss that matter with ministerial colleagues following the court judgment.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

I welcome the Minister to the House for his first Question Time, and I wish him well in all the responsibilities that he is undertaking.

Notwithstanding the fact that court proceedings are taking place and have to run their course, will the Minister say whether he is willing to consider legislating on the matter as part of the miscellaneous provisions Bill that he is determined to bring forward during the lifetime of the current Assembly? It would be remiss of the Assembly not to take the opportunity of such a Bill to correct the serious anomaly and inequity that remains in existing legislation.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I thank the Member for his good wishes and the genuine way in which he and other members of his party have co-operated with me in recent days. Nonetheless, I fear that, in the context of the need for the Executive to agree an overall strategy for Irish and Ulster Scots, it would be inappropriate, particularly in the absence of any consultation, to promise any speedy action by my Department on a single piece of legislation that might come forward shortly.

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Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I also welcome the Minister to the House in his new position. I find it extraordinary that ethnic minority languages are accommodated in the judicial system and the Irish language is not, given the demand for that indigenous language. More generally, what will the Minister do to ensure that the Irish language and Irish speakers are not discriminated against in the courts? Will he also look at the many symbols and emblems in the courts, with a mind to making courts more politically neutral places?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I thank the Member for his good wishes. I hope that I do not have to precede every response by saying that today.

The Member needs to be aware that anyone who is an Irish speaker and solely an Irish speaker is treated by the courts in exactly the same way as anyone who speaks only a different language. However, the Member raises a real issue, and the Executive as a whole must develop a collective strategy for languages, as his party and others negotiated at St Andrews. It is not possible for the Department of Justice to take forward that matter at this stage.

With regard to the slightly extraneous issue of the symbolism of the courts, that matter is kept under review by my Department in the context of its equality obligations, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be so considered.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Question 4 and question 8 have been withdrawn.