Govt, Judiciary elevating courts’ use of Kiswahili

25Jan 2021
Polycarp Machira
The Guardian
Govt, Judiciary elevating courts’ use of Kiswahili

​​​​​​​THE Government and the Judiciary have agreed to fully switch the country’s legal system and legal materials from English to Swahili, a century since the establishment of the High Court system in the country.

 Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said it was unjust to deny justice to a group of the citizenry on account of the language barrier.

Opening this year’s Tanzania Legal Week and 100th anniversary of the High Court, the VP said rural residents are unaware of most of the legal process, thus limiting access to justice in their communities.

 “The government is keenly waiting for the full implementation of this plan. Tanzania is an independent state and therefore it's unfair for people to be denied justice because of language,” she asserted.

 The VP launched seven guidelines for the judiciary to implement the intended shift, which includes management of evidence, enforcement of court orders and use of court services, asking the judiciary to enhance access to the civic grievance redress system.

 She hailed the law interpreting pillar of the state for the transformation it has undergone during the century, including recruiting 20 female judges in the past decade for the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

“There is a substantial revolution. You have established strategic divisions, Land, Commercial, Labour and the Corruption and Economic Crimes Division,” the VP noted, underlining that the use of ICT has helped the judiciary to match up with the digital world.

 Chief Justice Prof Ibrahim Juma said the changes in the judiciary are in line with the global fourth industrial revolution which standardizes transparency and efficiency in delivering justice.

 He said the government had extended the fibre optic broadband and is working to enhance e-government services, thus pushing the court to adopt a language format that will help ordinary people access justice more confidently.

Justice Prof Juma acknowledged that the language barrier can obstruct proper application of laws in a specific situation.

 “We have conducted an assessment of state records to establish what hindered the use of Kiswahili,” he said. “Official government records hold that efforts began when Telford Philip Georges was appointed Chief Justice, holding the position from 1965 to 1971, where the courts worked to ensure Kiswahili is applied in all stages of the court system.”

He said two committees were formed under the Justice and Education cabinet portfolios to write a Kiswahili Law Dictionary, among other recommendations. “There are no updates regarding the committee but we believe under the Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, we will be able to reach our target.”

 Technically 70 per cent of court proceedings in the country are run in Kiswahili. Chief Justice Prof Juma said only legal materials such as judgements are still being recorded in English.

He was optimistic that a strong push by the government to translate all legislations will ease the transition. “The court uses legalized terms,  a special language that is used by lawyers. We want to have uniformity in all proceedings and this is only possible with a change in concept documents,” he explained.

 China had adopted technology translating all court proceedings in different languages, he stated, noting that Tanzania can learn from that example.

With the advancement in technology Tanzania should be able to adopt software that can transcribe speeches in different languages and help save time, he added.

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