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Judges reject bid to end court ban on Irish language

Senior judges have rejected a legal bid to overturn a 270-year-old ban on the use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland court proceedings.

The Court of Appeal dismissed claims that the law was discriminatory and breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Justice Girvan ruled: “Conferring on individual litigants a right at their option to convert court forms from English into a language not understood by the vast majority of intended recipients would frustrate the interests of justice.”

Irish speaker Caoimhin Mac Giolla Cathain had been appealing the dismissal of a case he took after being told his application in Irish for a drinks licence could not be considered. Court staff said the reason was that under the Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737 all proceedings in Northern Ireland courts must be in English. The liquor licence sought by Mr Cathain, a member of the Shaws Road Gaeltacht, was in connection with a concert at the Culturlann arts centre in Belfast.

Last summer the High Court rejected his contention that the 1737 Act was incompatible with the European Charter for Regional and Minorities Language and that it contravened his human rights.

His lawyers then went before a three-judge appeal panel to argue that the legislation has been repealed in Scotland and Wales.

But Lord Justice Girvan, with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justice Coghlin, said the Act had not been shown to be incompatible with any of Mr Cathain's Convention rights.

Although he said the requirements did treat English speakers differently from non-English speakers, the judge held this was “necessary and proportionate in a democratic society”.

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