English is the language in High Court: Gujarat HC

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English is the language in High Court: Gujarat HC

  • The Gujarat High Court recently ordered a journalist charged with contempt of court to speak solely in English because it was the language in the higher judiciary.


  • The language used in Indian courts has evolved over centuries, beginning with the Mughal period's change from Urdu to Persian and Farsi scripts, which was retained in subordinate courts even during British rule.
  • In India, the British established a codified legal system with English as the official language.
  • Post-independence according to Article 343 of the Indian Constitution The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script,
  • However, it stipulated that the English language be utilized for all official purposes of the Union for a period of 15 years from the start of the Indian Constitution.
  • It further states that the President may, by decree, authorise the use of the Hindi language for any official purpose of the Union other than the English language during the stipulated term.


  • Article 348(1)(a): States that unless Parliament by law provides otherwise, all proceedings before the Supreme Court and in every High Court shall be conducted in English.
  • Article 348(2): Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 348(1), the Governor of a State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorize the use of Hindi or any other language used for any official purpose, in proceedings in the High Court.
  • The states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh have already permitted the use of Hindi in proceedings before their respective high courts
  • An additional provision stipulates that nothing in this article applies to any High Court decision, decree, or order.
  • As a result, the Constitution establishes English as the predominant language of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, with the exception that when another language is utilized in High Court proceedings, judgements must be rendered in English.

Official Languages Act 1963

  • It empowers the Governor of a state to authorize the use of Hindi, the state's official language, in addition to English, for the purposes of any judgment, decree, or order issued by the state's High Court, with the President's prior assent.
  • It further stipulates that every judgment, decision, or order issued in any of these languages must be accompanied by an English translation.
  • Even if this Act is read in conjunction with the constitutional provisions, it is apparent that English is given precedence.
  • The Official Languages Act makes no mention of the Supreme Court, where English is the only language in which proceedings are conducted.

Language of Subordinate courts

  • Until the state government decides otherwise, the language of all courts subordinate to High Courts is essentially the same as it was when the Civil Procedure Code was first enacted in 1908.
  • In subordinate courts, there are two laws addressing the use of language. according to Section 137 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the language of the district courts must be equivalent to the language of the act.
  • The state government has the authority to proclaim any regional language as a substitute for judicial proceedings.
  • The magistrate may, however, issue judgments, orders, and decrees in English.
  • The recording of the evidence must be done in the state's official language.
  • If a pleader is unfamiliar with English, a translation into the court's language will be provided at his request, and the court will cover the costs.
  • According to Section 272 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 the language of all courts other than the High Courts must be determined by the State government.
  • So, in general terms, it means that district courts must employ the regional language as directed by the state government.

Reasons to use the English language

  • Just as cases from all over the country come to the Supreme Court, Judges and attorneys of the Supreme Court come from all across India.
  • Judges can scarcely be expected to read papers and listen to arguments written in languages they are unfamiliar with.
  • It would be hard for them to carry out their duties if they didn't speak English. The Supreme Court's decisions are also presented in English.
  • Despite the fact that the Court launched an initiative in 2019 to translate its judgments into regional languages, the sheer amount of judgments delivered by the Court makes this a difficult task.

Significance of using the English Language

  • Uniformity: India's legal system is currently well-developed, interconnected, and consistent across the country.
  • Easy Access: Lawyers and judges have easy access to the opinions of other high courts on identical legislation and other legal and constitutional issues.
  • Seamless Transfer: Judges from one high court are currently moved to other high courts in a smooth manner.
  • Unified Structure: The Indian legal system now has a cohesive framework as a result of this. The characteristic of any strong legal system is certainty, precision, and predictability, which India is on the verge of achieving.
  • Acts As link: We owe it to the English language, which has functioned as a link language for India, which has roughly two dozen official state languages, to a large extent.

Way Forward

  • Language has long been a contentious topic in India, and the prospect of introducing respective state official languages in 25 different high courts remains large, with potentially disastrous consequences for the Indian legal system.
  • In a game of linguistic one-upmanship among the states, a formerly cohesive and well-structured legal system inside the country might easily crumble.
  • The addition of official state languages to the proceedings also directly contradicts and conflicts with the high court judges' transfer policy.
  • The move by different states to introduce their official language in their respective high courts without having a discussion with other states will only create legal pigeon holes, with one state's judiciary having no means of interacting with the judiciary of other states.
  • Communication between the judiciaries of various governments would be disrupted. In that case, the country's united legal system would not be the only item to fall on the altar of petty regional politics and linguistic nationalism.