Chief Justice DY Chandrachud recently made a decision that has far-reaching implications for the country’s judiciary. He directed that all judgments should be available in vernacular languages, stating that “access to justice is a fundamental right and it cannot be restricted to those who can read and understand English.”
The decision was met with widespread approval from leaders across the political spectrum. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “I welcome the decision of the Supreme Court to make judgements available in vernacular languages. This will help make our justice system more accessible and inclusive.”
Colonial era legacy
India is a country with a diverse linguistic landscape, with more than 19,500 languages and dialects spoken across its various regions. Despite this, English has been the primary language of the judiciary since the colonial era, with judgments and legal documents written in English. This has created a significant barrier for those who are not proficient in the language, particularly those in rural areas.
Justice Chandrachud’s decision aims to address this issue by making judgments available in the language spoken by the litigants. He stated, “The right of access to justice is not just about the right to approach a court, but it also includes the right to receive a judgment in a language that the litigant understands.”
The decision has been hailed as a step towards making the Indian judiciary more inclusive and accessible. The move also has the potential to increase the reach and impact of the judiciary. As former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha pointed out, “If you want to reach out to the common man, you have to speak his language.”
A challenge as well
Legal language can be complex and technical, and it is often difficult for non-lawyers to understand judgments in English. Providing judgments in regional languages can make legal proceedings more transparent and enable individuals to better understand the legal processes.
However, the decision also raises questions about the practicality of translating legal language into various vernacular languages. Legal language can be complex and technical, and translating it accurately while maintaining its meaning and nuance can be a challenge. The judiciary will need to ensure that translations are of a high standard and do not compromise the integrity of the original judgments.
Despite these challenges, Justice Chandrachud’s decision is a welcome one that has the potential to bring significant change to the Indian judiciary. As the Prime Minister Modi tweeted, “This decision will greatly benefit our citizens, especially those who live in remote areas and do not speak English. It will help make our justice system more accessible, transparent, and efficient.”
Providing judgments in regional languages can also increase the reach and impact of the judiciary. By speaking the language of the common people, the judiciary can better connect with the citizens and promote a sense of trust and confidence in the legal system. It is indeed a vital step towards inclusive justice for all Indians.