Bilingual juries ... what does "shortly" actually mean?

Continuing the theme of justice, one issue that has been outstanding for some time is bilingual juries. For some background information, please look at this thread:

Syniadau Forums - The Justice System - Bilingual Juries

In a nutshell, the case for bilingual juries is this: If a victim of crime, or any other witness including a defendant, chooses to give evidence in Welsh, then it is only right and fair that the jury is able to understand what they say.

In most cases, a witness's credibility is primarily determined by the way they answer questions ... especially when put under pressure in cross examination. Their tone of voice, frankness, confidence, hesitation, evasion or defensiveness are important ways in which any jury decides if a person is telling the truth or not. How can this be done if the jury doesn't understand Welsh?

Any translation will be several seconds late, in a voice different from that of the witness. How would a jury member who relies on such a translation decide whether a witness's body language matched what they said?


A detailled Consultation Paper was published in December 2005, and following that Hywel Williams introduced a Bill in Westminster in January 2007. It is not a matter for the Assembly (not even if the Welsh Language ELO goes through) because the use of Welsh in courts is a matter specifically reserved to Westminster. The Bill didn't get anywhere, but the matter is not dead, in fact the indications seem to be more positive than negative.

Anyway, what prompts me to make this post now is that Elfyn Llwyd raised the question of what was happening again this week:

29 April 2009

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the use of bilingual juries in courts in Wales. [270729]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I have discussed this issue with the Secretary of State for Justice and with the First Minister and an announcement will be made shortly.


Fair enough, one might say. Unless of course you remember what was said last time the question was asked:

22 July 2008

Hywel Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice when he plans to publish his response to the consultation on bilingual juries in Wales. [211285]

Mr. Straw: The Ministry of Justice will make a statement on bilingual juries shortly.


It appears that Westminster has rather different ideas from everyone else about what a simple word like "shortly" actually means.

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Anonymous said...

Why don't you face facts? It's obvious that the government aren't going to do anything and are just stringing Plaid along.

MH said...

In the first instance bilingual juries are not just supported by Plaid. If you go back to Iaith Pawb, a document on bilingualism produced by the Labour/LibDem Government in the days of the first Assembly, it says:

"We consider that bilingual juries should be the next step forward in appropriate circumstances and we are pressing the UK Government for suitable measures to be brought forward." -

Although I can't be sure what the thinking behind the delay is, I would guess that it is because the UK government thinks bilingual juries in Wales are simply one small problem. They have other concens over juries: in particular whether they fairly represent ethnic minorities, and whether people who do not work are over-represented (those that do work, particularly in their own business or in management positions can often avoid serving).

This report, produced for the Ministry of Justice in June 2007, outlines the breadth of concern.

My guess is that the MoJ are trying to put together a comprehnsive Juries Act to address all the perceived problems. If they can do it, then bilingual juries will be included in it. I only hope that if they can't do it (and a general election is looming) they will instead pass a small, simple Act along the lines of Hywel Williams' Bill.

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