- The Bill is yet to be tabled to the National Assembly.
- The language of the laws to be in Kiswahili.
- The language of the courts, tribunals and other bodies shall also be Kiswahili
- Circumstances where English may be used in dispensing justice.
- The Minister may determine situations where a law can be written in another language.
On the 5th of February 2021, the Secretary to the Cabinet, Hon. John H. Kijazi issued a notice to the public regarding the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, 2021 (herein referred as the Bill) which is to be discussed in the National Assembly in the next session. The Bill aims at amending various laws including the Interpretation of Laws Act, (CAP 1); The Land Disputes Courts Act, (CAP 216) and the Magistrates’ Courts Act (CAP.11).
The objective of the amendment is to change the language of the Court and the laws from the English language as it has been previously used to Kiswahili language.
2.0 Brief background
Prior to these changes, the language of the Court was either English or Swahili or Both. However, the Primary Courts and Ward Tribunals maintained using Swahili language as their court language. Similarly, the Magistrates, Judges and Justices of the Court of Appeal also had liberty to use Swahili language during oral proceedings to ensure that every party to the case is well acquainted with the laws as well as the ongoing proceedings. Nonetheless, all proceedings and decisions of the Courts, Tribunals and other authorities were required to be drafted in English language.
It is also worth noting that, all Bills and Acts of the Parliament, including most Regulations, Directives and Rules have been drafted and published in English with exception to the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977.
Furthermore, Section 84 (1) of the Interpretation of Laws Act in an event where a written law is enacted in both English and Swahili, and there occurs a conflict or doubt as to the meaning of any word or expression, then the English version ought to take precedence.
3.0 The proposed changes
The Bill proposes the amendment of section 84(1) of the Interpretation of Laws Act which amends and declare Kiswahili as the language of the laws of the country and the language to be used in administration and dispensation of justice as per section 84A (1).
Additionally, the Bill through Section 84(6) provides that the Minister responsible for legal affairs may make regulations prescribing circumstances and conditions where a law may be in a language other than Kiswahili language.
Nonetheless, for the non-Swahili speakers, the Bill through section 84A (2), the proposes for the courts, tribunals and other bodies charged with the duties of dispensing justice to use English language as may be determined by the presiding officer where the interests of justice so requires. However, it is mandatory for the same to be translated and authenticated in Swahili language as proposed in Section 84A (3) of the Bill.
Furthermore, the Bill proposes to add section 84A(4), which gives power to the Minister responsible of justice in consultation with the Chief Justice to determine circumstances and conditions, where the dispensation of justice may be done in another language other than Kiswahili.
Moreover, the Bill proposes to amend the Land Disputes Courts Act and the Magistrates’ Courts Act by repealing section 32 and section 13 of the Acts respectively, which provided the language of the court or tribunal to be English, or Kiswahili.
Henceforth, with these amendments, the official language, which shall be used in the Courts and Tribunal, shall be Kiswahili as it is reflected in the amendments that are to be made in the Interpretation of Laws Act.
The proposed amendment will impact a vast number of Tanzanians since Swahili is the official language of the nation. This will aid members of the public to easily understand the written laws. Similarly, adopting Swahili as the language of the court will be an effective means of administering and dispensing justice to the indigenous public since they will be conversant with the laws and the legal procedures in general.
Nonetheless, this Bill poses various challenges including the practicability aspect of it. This is because English is predominantly the language of the legal education and curriculum; hence, it renders difficult for the legal practitioners who learn the law in English and practice it in Swahili.
Furthermore, the Bill may pose a strain to some technical laws that deals with tax, procurement and investment matters to name a few. Thus, we at Breakthrough Attorneys suggest that, the Minister of legal affairs through the powers conferred to him/her under section 84(6) of the Interpretation of Laws Act, maintains the English version of these relevant laws as it will also aid on their application.
Despite these changes, it is worth noting that, the Bill has left a wiggle room for the non-Swahili speakers to still have access to a fair and just legal system. This is because the presiding officer has been vested with powers to conduct a matter in any other language that maybe understood by the parties as stipulated under Section 84 A (3) of the Bill.
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