Local languages in the European area of justice

The Ministry of Justice of France  has warned the General Council of the Spanish Judiciary on the bad practices of some Catalonian judges and magistrates, who send their resolutions to their French colleagues written in Catalan. France has raised a complaint to the CGPJ, which in turn has sent a letter to the president of the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia,  reminding that France will only accept foreing judicial communications in French, English, Italian, German or Spanish, and “do not accept any other language.”

The CGPJ  explains the case of a Court of Cassa de la Selva (Girona), which sent a letter of request to the neighboring country drafted exclusively in Catalan. In the CGPJ’s opinion, this attitude amounts to a violation of the rules of linguistic uses. The CGPJ also points out that European countries have the power to decide which foreign languages other than their own they accept for judicial documents to be referred to them. It also notes that the French Huissiers de Justice are annoyed by the frequent use of Catalan in the forms and letters sent by Catalan courts.

According to a  journalist point of view (see El Mundo, 17.05.2010),  this approach of the judiciary may be influenced by the fact that both Catalonian police and justice are instructed to prioritize the Catalan language in their writings. In case their documents have to be sent to another Spanish court outside Catalonia, they must be translated. This obligation can not be extrapolated to countries where the language of communication is not recognized as official.

The CGPJ has urged Catalonian judges not to send more documents written in Catalan to the neighboring country.

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  • Gilles Cuniberti May 19, 2010, 9:22 am

    Marta,

    very interesting post. I am surprised to hear that French authorities would actually understand even Spanish!

    On a more serious note, I wonder this: if a Catalonian judge sends a request to a French authority, this must be because he needs the input of that French authority. So it seems to me that it should be in his own interest to write the request in a language which is likely to be understood by the French authority. What kind of game is he playing at writing a request in a language nobody understands? He just does not care for the answer?

  • Marta Requejo May 19, 2010, 9:50 am

    The use of language (languages) in Spain is a very complex and highly politicized issue … when, in my view, as you say, practical considerations should prevail!

  • Gordon Keck-O May 20, 2010, 7:29 am

    The judge probably considers that judgments in Catalan are easier to decipher for a French judge than a decision in Spanish. After all, Catalan is much closer to French than Spanish is, sharing pronouns, vocabulary and grammatical rules that are absent in Spanish.

    It’s not my intention to support the judge’s action, but there appears to be a certain rationale behind it all (no matter how questionable it might be in strictly legal terms).

  • Marta Requejo May 20, 2010, 7:53 am

    It seems to me that’s an overly optimistic opinion. And, anyway, if what you are looking for is a language that ensures understanding of the receptor, the logical thing to do is to use his own language, or one that he has established as eligible.

  • Laura Carballo Piñeiro May 20, 2010, 10:20 am

    Regarding to the journalist’s point of view, I would like to remind that, besides Spanish rules on the use of official languages by the justice, Spain has signed the European Chapter of Regional or Minority Languages, with binding dispositions on this issue as well (which are also applicable to non official languages in Spain).