The Welsh Language Act 1993 requires that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales, English and Welsh are to be treated on the basis of equality, so far as is appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable. Participants in criminal and civil trials in Wales have the right to use the Welsh language in court.
There is, however, no provision for ensuring that juries in Wales must be comprised of members who are bilingual in both Welsh and English. The reason for this is that juries must, by law, be selected at random from the whole community.
A consultation exercise on “The Use of Bilingual (English and Welsh-speaking) Juries in Certain Criminal Trials in Wales” was conducted between December 2005 and March 2006.
The consultation paper invited comments on the desirability of selecting juries in certain criminal trials in Wales, all of whose members would be bilingual in Welsh and English. A bilingual jury would be selected where, for example, it was likely that much of the evidence at the trial would be given in Welsh.
The consultation paper made it clear that the Government have not decided whether bilingual juries were desirable in principle, and would not consider this further until after the consultation period was over.
The subject is not straightforward because it is one of those which comes down to a choice between two good and desirable things—in this instance, the principle of random selection in the jury system and greater use of the Welsh language in court.
On this occasion the Government have decided not to proceed with bilingual juries, primarily because the balance of argument lies against their negative impact on the principle of random selection of juries from the community as a whole, and hence on social inclusion and justice.
I am placing a copy of the full Government response to the consultation in the Libraries of both Houses.