This Thursday, coinciding with the resumption of normal court services, Plataforma per la Llengua publishes the report What are the Obstacles Preventing the Use of Catalan in the Justice System? The document clearly explains the impediments and offers more than a dozen ideas to promote and strengthen Catalan among the professionals working in the administration of justice or having relations with it. The organisation calls on the judicial institutions to make efforts not to discriminate against citizens due to language and not to use the COVID-19 health emergency as an excuse for violating language rights.
One of the constant demands of the Catalan NGO, adding to requests also made by the Council of Europe, is for the Spanish Parliament to amend Article 231 of the Judicial System Act. The change should allow citizens to have the right to carry out judicial proceedings in Catalan. This article is, in fact, the great obstacle to using Catalan in the judicial field, because it fixes Spanish as the default language. This limits the rights of the speakers of other languages and means Catalan is not a requirement for magistrates, judges and prosecutors working in territories where Catalan is the native language. The same law ought to establish knowledge of Catalan (and Occitan in the case of the Vall d'Aran) as a requirement for judges, magistrates, prosecutors, court clerks and judicial system staff, with an adaptation period of not more than six months if necessary. All this, of course, ought to be applicable in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian region.
Plataforma per la Llengua also suggests that the central and higher judicial institutions, such as the Constitutional Court, should have a division or branch in Catalonia, the Valencian region and the Balearic Islands. This approach should guarantee the language rights of those affected by the administration in these territories when processing their cases and constitutional appeals.
The report also includes a comparative law analysis of Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. This demonstrates how other states with similar multilingual situations handle linguistic diversity and shows up the Spanish anomaly in the treatment of other native languages in its territories.
Recovering the Plan to Promote the Use of Catalan
Other proposals call for the direct involvement of the Catalan Government's Department of Justice. The department could, for example, offer the General Council of the Judiciary a translation service making it possible to guarantee the same situation in terms of documents and user actions as exists for court cases processed in Spanish. Another proposal is to recover the Plan to Promote the Use of Catalan in actions by court clerks which paid them a bonus to act in Catalan. This was suspended some months ago, even though it was helping to strengthen the presence of Catalan in decisions, interlocutory proceedings and processing documents. Establishing agreements with official lawyers' associations so that their members who promised to carry out actions in Catalan would have their membership fees paid is another solution suggested in this study.
Leaving aside academic procedures or those in which the Departments of Justice of Catalan-speaking governments can become involved, the main obstacle to guaranteeing citizen's rights before the Spanish justice system is, unfortunately, in the regulations. It is not so much a question of raising Catalan-speaking citizens' awareness of their language rights as ensuring that they receive sufficient protection from the public authorities.
As its final proposal to improve the presence of Catalan in the judicial sphere, Plataforma per la Llengua considers that the use of Catalan must be ensured during the training of future jurists. To achieve this, the Catalan NGO suggests that the Catalan universities should guarantee that the majority of their classes will be given in Catalan and that no subject will be taught without offering the option to study it in Catalan. If this is done, the jurists leaving Catalan universities and wanting to practise their profession in Catalan with be able to do so with full guarantees. These institutions must also invest in academic materials and textbooks in Catalan, whether through the creation of translation services or using materials written directly in Catalan, very few of which are available today.