South African Parliament directed to comply with the Statutory Language requirements

Supreme-Court-of-Appeals

Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA): In an interesting constitutional matter, a five-judge Bench comprising Lewis, Ponnan (JJA), Seriti (JJA), Fourie (AJJA) and Plasket (AJJA) dismissed the demand for publication of all the statutes in 11 different official languages, but directed the Parliament to comply with the language requirements as provided under the Official Languages Act.

The petitioner, a practicing attorney from Brits, North Province argued that the current practice of using only English as the language of legislation amounted to unfair discrimination against him and the entire non-English speaking population of the country. Initiating the proceedings before the Equality Court in the first instance, the petitioner claimed that the respondents were guilty of conduct that amounts to unfair language discrimination in that they fail to publish all national legislations in all the official languages of the Republic of South Africa. The Equality Court dismissed the petition, but granted leave to appeal recognising the involved constitutional aspects of national importance. Before the SCA, the appellant argued for defining the word “official” in consistence with the fair language treatment i.e. all conducts of Parliament, including the Acts shall be in all the 11 official languages. However, the Court observing to the contrary stated that Section 6 of the Constitution only provides for using two official languages and not all of them. Referring to Section 220, Court reaffirmed that the language requirements under the Constitution call for using two languages, however, the Parliament has not been observing it either in the conduct or the legislations.

Dismissing the petition, the Court concluded that the Parliament and the National Government were not guilty of unfair discrimination as alleged by the petitioner, but chose to remind the Parliament to comply with the language requirements under the Constitution effecting Section 4 of the Official Languages Act. [Lourens v. Speaker of the National Assembly of Parliament, (20827/2014) decided on 10/03/2016]

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