The Supreme Court on Thursday passed an interim order staying a Madras High Court directive from 2014, which had quashed an earlier ruling on allowing lower courts in Tamil Nadu to use both English and Tamil, The Hindu reported.
In 2014, a High Court bench had overturned a circular issued by the High Court in 1994 that permitted lower courts in the state to write their rulings in Tamil as well as in English, and not just in Tamil as required by an amendment passed in 1976 to the Tamil Nadu Official Language Act of 1956.
Lawyer V Vasanthakumar had filed a special leave petition against the quashing and argued the case in person before Chief Justice of India JS Khehar and justices DY Chandrachud and Pinaki Chandra Ghose.
The controversy over the use of both English and Tamil in subordinate court orders has spanned over four decades, since the amendment to the Act was passed in 1976. A section of lawyers has been campaigning against allowing the use of English, while another is trying to get it implemented.
Here’s how the dispute began:
- 1956: The Tamil Nadu Official Language Act is enacted.
- 1969: A notification to declare Tamil the official language in all lower courts is issued.
- 1976: Tamil Nadu is under President’s Rule. The Tamil Nadu Official Language Act is amended to declare Tamil the official language of the state’s subordinate courts.
- 1982: An advocate moves Madras High Court, challenging as “invalid and unconstitutional” a section of the Act that made Tamil mandatory to record evidence and write judgments, orders and decrees in lower courts. Many other writ petitions by lawyers followed.
- 1984: Division Bench refers the case to a Full Bench.
- 1993: Madras High Court forms three-judge Full Bench nine years later.
- 1994: Full Bench dismisses all petitions challenging Tamil being made the official language of courts. It holds that Tamil should be given priority as lower courts are mostly approached by local residents not familiar with English.
- 1994: All Madras High Court judges issue a memorandum granting judicial officers the option to write judgments in either English or Tamil.
- 2010: An advocate challenges the memorandum.
- 2013: High Court Division Bench dismisses the petition.
- 2014: Another lawyer seeks a review of this dismissal. Court allows a fresh hearing and quashes circular that allowed the use of English in lower courts’ orders.