Law Report: Welsh Language Act did not apply

Thursday Law Report: 29 July 1999 Williams v Cowell and another (t/a The Stables) Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Nourse, Lord Justice Judge and Lord Justice Mummery) 20 July 1999
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SECTION 22 of the Welsh Language Act 1993 did not apply to proceedings of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London hearing an appeal from the Employment Tribunal sitting in Wales.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant's appeal against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, refusing his applications that it should exercise its discretion to sit in Wales so as to enable appeal proceedings in which he was involved to be conducted in Welsh in accordance with the Welsh Language Act 1993; or, alternatively, direct that if the appeal were to be heard in London, it should be conducted in Welsh, at least so far as the applicant's submissions were concerned.

The applicant, whose mother tongue was Welsh, but who also spoke English, was employed by the employers as a chef in their restaurant. The employers spoke no Welsh. They asked the applicant to communicate with the kitchen staff, who were all Welsh-speakers, in English. He refused to comply with that request. The employers dismissed him.

He lodged a complaint with the Employment Tribunal that he had been discriminated against on racial grounds. The application was heard by the tribunal sitting in Wales. The applicant's case was conducted in Welsh and he and his witnesses gave evidence in Welsh. A simultaneous translation service was provided. The tribunal, which gave its extended reasons in Welsh and English versions, found in favour of the applicant. The employers appealed to the EAT, which refused to make the orders sought by the applicant. He appealed.

The main issue arising on the appeal was whether the 1993 Act applied only to proceedings heard in courts and tribunals actually sitting in Wales, or whether it also applied to proceedings in courts and tribunals sitting in England by way of appeal from decisions in proceedings heard by courts and tribunals in Wales.

Section 22(1) of the Act provided:

In any legal proceedings in Wales the Welsh language may be spoken by any party, witness or other person who desires to use it, subject in the case of proceedings in a court other than a magistrates' court to such prior notice as may be required by rules of court; and any necessary provision for interpretation shall be made accordingly.

Robin Allen QC and K. Monaghan (Merrion Jones, Caernarfon) for the applicant; the employers did not appear and were not represented.

Lord Justice Mummery said that, on its true construction, section 22 of the 1993 Act did not apply to the hearing in London of the employers' appeal to the EAT. The appeal was a separate and distinct legal proceeding from the application to the Employment Tribunal in Wales. The expression "legal proceedings in Wales" in section 22 referred to the geographical location of the proceedings.

There were no grounds for interfering with the discretion exercised by the EAT as to the venue of the appeal hearing. Further, the discretion had not been exercised in conflict with or in disregard of any relevant human-rights context. The hearing did not become discriminatory of or unfair to the applicant simply because it was conducted in English, a language which he could speak and understand.

When human-rights points were taken there was a temptation to impress (and to oppress) the court with bulk, and to turn a judicial hearing of a particular case into an international human-rights seminar. That temptation should be resisted. There should only be put before the court that part of the researched material which was reasonably required for the resolution of the particular appeal. It was not necessary to include all the treaty, convention, legislative, judicial and periodical material which had been uncovered.

In the interests of saving the legal costs of the parties and the time of the court, as well as for the conservation of the environment, self- restraint should be exercised to select what was reasonably required for counsel to develop the arguments and for the court to decide the case.

Kate O'Hanlon,