The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Only Tamil in high court

Chennai, Nov. 22: Tamil is set to hijack the 144-year-old mantle of English as the sole official language of Madras High Court.

Chief minister M. Karunanidhi today sprang the shocker at a news conference, saying his government “will take the necessary legal steps soon to make Tamil the sole court language of Madras High Court”.

English has been the official language of the court since it was established in 1862 along with the Calcutta and Bombay high courts.

The move, ostensibly aimed at pleasing Tamil hard-liners, has triggered outrage in legal circles. Many see it as a step backward at a time IT minister Dayanidhi Maran (DMK) is labouring hard to lure global majors to the state.

Karunanidhi will make use of a sub-section in the Constitution to push his plan through. Although Article 348 says English is the official language of the Supreme Court and high courts, 348 (2) allows a state’s official language to be used in the high court with assent from the President.

“We will make use of this provision,” Karunanidhi said.

But he clarified that an exception would be made for judges from non-Tamil speaking states. “Those judges who know only English can use English and they will be exempt.”

The move implies that several laws and acts will have to be translated into Tamil as everything from filing petitions and presenting arguments to writing judgments will have to be done in that language.

As of now, Tamil versions of the Constitution, Indian Penal Code, Civil Procedure Code and the Criminal Procedure Code are available because lower courts conduct proceedings in Tamil.

“We will try to expedite the translation of various laws and acts,” Karunanidhi said.

Senior lawyer and veteran Congress leader S.R. Balasubramoniyan said the move was not practical. “This is just playing to the gallery,” he said.

“When we have accepted the transfer of judges from one high court to another as laudable in principle, the high court cannot transact business only in Tamil,” he said.

Some high court lawyers asked if the judiciary had at all been consulted before such a “radical” step was taken.

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