Judiciary has bilingual policy
I refer to the letter by D.F. Burke headlined 'Not all equal before the law in SAR' (South China Morning Post, March 19).
Under the Basic Law Article 9, in addition to the Chinese language, English may also be used as an official language by the Judiciary, and this includes court proceedings.
The Judiciary encourages monolingual judges and judicial officers to learn Chinese, but it is not easy to sustain the level of proficiency sufficient to enable one to conduct a trial in Chinese.
Following the introduction of the bilingual legal system, the number of cases tried in Chinese in courts has increased steadily over the years. The Judiciary recorded an increase in the number of cases tried in Chinese in the High Court from 73 in 1997, to 363 in 2000, and a nearly twofold increase (23 per cent in 1997 to 41 per cent in 2000) in appeals heard in Chinese in the Court of First Instance of the High Court.
In the magistrates' courts, more than 76 per cent of the trials are now conducted in Chinese. In small-claims tribunals and labour tribunals where legal representation is not allowed, hearings in Chinese account for more than 90 per cent of all the cases.
The Judiciary's objective is to put in place a bilingual court system in which either or both of the official languages may be used. A judge or judicial officer may use either language in conducting any hearing to which the Official Languages Ordinance, Cap. 5, extends. In deciding which one of the official languages is to be used, the paramount consideration is the just and expeditious disposal of the cause or matter.
The court will also take into consideration other factors, including - the language ability of the accused or litigants and their lawyers; the language in which the witness will testify; the volume of documents which may be required to be translated into the other official language, and the factual and legal issues in dispute.
Principal Information Officer