SWAHILI PROPOSED AS LANGUAGE OF TANZANIAN LAW AND COURTS

Published by Jessy L. Kalinjuna

Introduction
On 5 February 2021, Mr. John W.H. Kijazi, the Secretary to the Cabinet published a notice that informs the general public about the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill of 2021 herein referred as a (the Bill). The Bill proposed to amend and add provisions on several written laws including the Interpretation of Laws Act, herein below referred as (Chapter 1).

In a nutshell, the proposed amendments substituted English with Swahili language as the language of the law, Court, and records in the administration of justice in Tanzania.

Background
Primary Courts and Ward Tribunals are required to use Swahili language in oral and written proceedings. Depending on the presiding personnel, District Courts, Resident Magistrates’ Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Administrative Tribunals use both Swahili and English languages in oral proceedings. However, the records and decisions of these Courts/Tribunals must be written in English.

Concerning the law-making process, since 1965 Swahili language has been used in debates and the proceedings of the National Assembly. Except for the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977, Bills and Acts of the Parliament, including this Bill, have been drafted and published in English since the British Colonial Rule to date. The law subsidiary legislation is drafted in either Swahili or English language or both.

The Law Reform Commission of Tanzania (LRCT) has added ‘simplification and translation of laws’ as one of its core functions. LRCT has been able to translate about 15 out of 2500+ possible laws. Yet, the Chief Parliamentary Draftsman has never approved such translated pieces of legislation for official use. Despite section 84(1) of Chapter 1 recognizing both English and Kiswahili as the language of the law, subsection 3 of section 84 prioritizes the English version in case of a conflict or doubt about some terms or passage in a law.

On the other hand, section 33 of the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 3) Act, 2020 adds subsection 2 immediately after subsection 1 of section 84 of Chapter 1, which allows the Attorney General to ‘translate any written law from one language of enactment into another’ and publish the translated version in the Government Gazette.

 

 

 

Proposed change

The Bill proposes to amend the Interpretation of Laws Act as follows:

  • Proposed Section 84(1) declares Swahili as the language of the laws of the country
  • The Bill adds Section 84(6) that empowers the Minister responsible for legal affairs to make regulations prescribing circumstances and conditions where a law may be in a language other than Swahili language, allowing some flexibility, with purposes such as to retain the English version of the relevant laws in order to ease legal education.
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  • The Bill adds Section 84A that declares Swahili as the language to be used in the administration and dispensation of justice (by Courts, tribunals, and other adjudicative bodies)
  • English may be used in the adjudication process at the discretion of the presiding officer, but the resulting records or documents must be translated and authenticated in Swahili language unlike English presently
  • The proposed Section 84A allows the Minister responsible for legal affairs in consultation with the Chief Justice to determine circumstances and conditions, where the dispensation of justice may be made in a language other than Swahili

Conclusion
The effective change of language to Swahili will make Swahili become predominantly a language of the law, Courts, Court records, and Courtroom communications. Given the fact that Swahili language is vastly used in day-to-day activities of the Government and its people, its use in the legal sector will undoubtedly facilitate the realization of access to justice by all.

Kindly click the website below to read a copy of the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill of 2021, 

https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/images/upload/files/THE%20WRITTEN%20LAWS%20%28MISCELLANEOUS%20AMENDMENTS%29%20%28NO.3%29%20ACT%2C%202020%20%283%29.pdf 

 Kindly click the website below to read a copy of the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 3) Act, 2020,
https://tanzlii.org/tz/legislation/act/2020/3-0