Legal Services and Laws of Sri Lanka


SLR-1978-79-80 Vol.1-P323

SLR - 1978-79-80 Vol.1, Page No - 323

COOMARASWAMY
v.
SHANMUGARATNA IYAR AND ANOTHER

SUPREME COURT
SAMARAKOON, C. J., THAMOTHERAM, J., AND SHARVANANDA, J.
S.C. REFERENCE No. 1/80
C. A. (LA.) 85/79
C. A. (REVISION) 1920/79
JANUARY 27, 1980.

Language of the Courts - Directions issued under Article 24(4) of the Constitution - Pleadings filed in Tamil.
Ultra vires.

A party or applicant or any person legally entitled to represent such party or applicant has a right, by virtue ofparagraph
2 of Article 24 of the Constitution, to submit pleadings inthe Tamil language in the District CourtofColomboandsuch
party is not bound to submit such pleadings in Sinhala also. The State is obliged toprovideatranslationoftheTamil
pleadings into Sinhala for the purpose of keeping the record in Sinhala in the District Court of Colombo in terms ofArticle
24(1).
A party who files his pleadings in Tamil is not obliged to provide such pleadings in Sinhala also:
C Thiagalingam, Q.C. with C. Ranganathan, QC., H. L de Silva, S. Mahenthiran and A. Gnanathasan for defendant-appellant.
V. S. A. Pullenayagam with SC. Chandrahasan, C V. Vivekananthan, S. Ruthiramoorthy, Mrs. S Gnanakaran and S. Navaratnam
for plaintiff-respondents.
K. M. M. B. Kulatunga Addl. Solicitor-General with S. Ratnapala State Counsel for Attorney-General.

March 13, 1980
SHARVANANDA, J.
The plaintiffs-respondents institutedthis action in the District Court of Colombo to have the defendant-petitionerejected
from their premises in Kotahena. On the date due for answer, the registered Attorney of the defendant delivered an answerin
the Tamil language together with a copy in the English language. Thereupon, the Addl. District Judge of Colombobeforewhom
the matter came up madeorder. "Support on 22.8.79". Accordingly, Counsel on behalf of the defendant justified thedelivery
of the answer in the Tamil language with hissubmissionthat,byvirtueoftheprovisionsofArticle24(2)ofthe
Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, he was entitled to file his pleadings in the Tamillanguage.
Counsel for plaintiffs did not object to the answer being filed in Tamil. The Addl. District Judge, however,byhis order
dated 19.10.79, held that Article 24 of the Constitution did not permit the defendant tofilepleadingsinTamilinthe
District Court of Colombo and directed the defendant to file his answer in Sinhala. The defendant thenmovedtheCourtof
Appeal for leave to appeal and for revision of the order. The Divisional BenchoftheCourtofAppealwhichheardthe
application, though it took the view that "an answer filed intheTamillanguageisananswerthatshouldhavebeen
accepted", referred to this Court the Constitutional question involved in the application in termsofArticle125ofthe
Constitution.

Neither Counsel for the respondents nor the Attorney-General sought to support the order of the Addl. District Judge forthe
good reason that it could not be sustained. The language of Article 24(2) of the Constitution is clearandunambiguous.It
reads:
"Any party or applicant or any person legally entitled to represent such party orapplicantmayinitiateproceedingsand
submit to Court pleadings and other documents and participate intheproceedingsinCourtineitherof theNational
languages."
Article 18 and 19, respectively, declare that :
"The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala" and that "the National languages of SriLankashallbeSinhalaand
Tamil".
Article 24(1) provides that

"The Official Language shall be the language of the Courts throughout Sri Lanka................ providedthatthelanguage
of the Courts exercising original jurisdiction in the Northern and Eastern Provinces shall also be Tamil".
Thus, though the language of the Courts throughout Sri Lanka is Sinhala, the language oftheCourtsintheNorthernand
Eastern Provinces is also Tamil. The fact that Tamil is not thelanguage of the Courts in the rest of Sri Lankaotherthan
in the Northern and Eastern Provinces does not mean that it cannot be used in those Courts. While Tamil can be used inthese
Courts, it is mandatory that their records and proceedings shall be kept in Sinhala, the Official Language. Thusitisnot
correct to state that the only National language used in the District Court of Colombo is Sinhala. Itisquiteregularto
use both National languages in the District Court of Colombo, but the records therein should howeverbemaintainedinthe
Official Language.

The fundamental error committed by the Addl. District Judge is that he has sought to construe the clear languageofArticle
24(2) by reference to a directive purported to be issued by the Minister of Justice under Article 24(4) of theConstitution,
providing for the use of a non-National language in Court. I can find no warrant for this process or mode of construction.
Article 24(4) reads as follows
"The Minister in charge of the subject of justice may with the concurrence oftheCabinetofMinistersissuedirections
permitting the use of a language other than the National languages in or in relation to the records andproceedingsinany
Court for all purposes or for any such purpose as may be specified therein. Every Judge shallbeboundtoimplementsuch
directions".
This Article makes provision for the use of a language other than a National language in the Courts. It doesnotdealwith
the use of National languages in the Courts, and hence neither this Article not any direction issued under itcanhaveany
application or relevance to the use of either of the National languages in Courts. The right to theuseofeitherofthe
National languages in any Court stems from Article 24(2), and no direction of the Minister issued in terms ofArticle24(4)
can impinge on or impair that right. Any direction which directly orindirectlymodifiessuchrightwillprotantobe
invalid. Hence that direction can have no bearing on the ordinary and natural sense of the words of Article 24(2).

By virtue of thepowers vested in him by Article 24(4), the MinisterofJustice, actingwiththeconcurrenceofthe
Cabinet of Ministers, issued on 7th September 1978 a direction permitting "the use of the English language forallpurposes
in or in relation to the records and proceedings in all Courts throughout Sri Lanka". By asubsequentdirectiondated7th
May 1979, the Minister made order that the said direction of 7th September 1978, should bereadsubjecttothefollowing
modification
"I hereby direct that in any Court other than the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal alanguageotherthanaNational
language may be used for any purpose in any case in which theconductofproceedingsinaNationalLanguagemightbe
prejudicial to the proper adjudication of any such matter in such proceedings.

Provided, however, that the pleadings, applications and motions in all such cases shall also be in such National languageas
is used in such Court".
The Addl. District Judge erred in his assumption that this directive of 7th May 1979 could abridge or negate theunqualified
right granted by Article 24(2). The Minister's directions under Article 24(4) isirrelevantinconsideringthescopeor
ambit of the language right secured to a party by Article 24(2).

In my view, the proviso in the direction dated 7th May 1979, "Provided however that the pleadings, applicationsandmotions
in all suchcases shall also be in such National language as is used in such Court", is not warranted by Article24(4)and
is ultra vires the powers of the Minister. In the exercise of his powers under Article 24(4), it isnotcompetentforthe
Minister to incorporate a direction in respect of the use of a National language in Court.
The Court of Appeal has posed the question whether a party who in the exercise of his rightfileshispleadingsinTamil
should be obliged to provide such pleadings in Sinhala also. In my view the Constitution does not impose any suchobligation
or condition. It would render the party's Constitutional right illusory if such a condition is laid down fortheacceptance
by Court of pleadings in the Tamil language there is no legal justification for such a demand. Articles24(3)and25of
the Constitution cast on the State the duty on function of providing the necessary facilities.

Accordingly, the determination of this Court is that a party or applicant or any person legally entitledtorepresentsuch
party or applicant has aright, by virtue of paragraph 2 of Article 24 of the Constitution, to submit pleadings intheTamil
language in the District Court of Colombo and that such party is not bound to submit suchpleadingsinSinhalaalso.The
State is obliged to provide a translation of the Tamilpleadings into Sinhala for thepurposeofkeepingtherecordin
Sinhala in the District Court of Colombo in terms of Article 24(l).

In view of the above determination, this Court sees no useful purpose in remitting the case to the Court of Appeal. Itmakes
the following consequential order.
"The Order of the Addl. District Judge dated 19.10.79 is set aside and he isdirectedtoacceptthepleadingsinTamil
submitted by the defendant and to take further steps according to law".
Since the plaintiffs-respondents were not parties to the order made by. the Addl. District Judge, we make no order forcosts
of proceedings in this Court or in the Courtof Appeal.
SAMARAKOON, C.J. -I agree.
THAMOTHERAM, J. - I agree.


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