‘Reconsider decision on English-only law exam’

Henry

The civil rights group AfriForum asks in a letter to the Legal Practice Council (RPR) that the council’s entrance exam continues to be taken in Afrikaans, while the DA advocates for greater language diversity in this exam.

The action follows after the RPR recently decided that its entrance exam for candidate lawyers will henceforth only be taken in English.

Werner Horn, DA spokesperson on justice and correctional services, says the party believes the “constitutional ideal is the strengthening and expansion of the status and use of multiple languages, rather than imposing restrictions.”

“It is sobering to learn that legal practitioners studying in Afrikaans were only informed of this policy change weeks before their examination, which undermines their preparation and possibly affects their performance,” says Horn.

“The decision seems to disregard the constitutional commitment to linguistic diversity.”

The DA also questions the council’s motivation for the decision and says it is apparently based on the idea that writing exams in Afrikaans offers an “unfair advantage” but that the promotion of inclusivity and the assurance of equal opportunities for all candidates – regardless their mother tongue – should be the priority.

“Furthermore, this move is in line with the worrying trend of promoting English as the sole language of record and operation in our courts. The approach risks undermining the administration of justice and the functionality of the legal system. A diverse linguistic landscape is essential for a robust legal framework that truly serves the interests of all South Africans,” says Horn.

Expand language rights instead

Alana Bailey, head of cultural affairs at AfriForum, agrees that language rights should be expanded instead. She says the decision could be laughable – if it wasn’t so worrying.

“The RPR claims that Afrikaans-speaking candidates are unfairly favored because they are examined in their mother tongue, while the examinations cannot be taken in any other indigenous language. The solution is to extend language rights and make the exam material available in more languages. Instead, the RPR’s solution is to deprive even more people of their language rights. This is clearly an attack on Afrikaans and Afrikaans-speaking lawyers, and no attempt to protect or promote anyone’s rights.”

AfriForum has conducted polls in the past which show that legal professionals and their clients have a need for the use of their own languages.

“Although the court record language, for example, is currently only English, lawyers provide extensive services to the public. Among other things, they also draft contracts and wills, offer advice on diverse issues and tackle litigation. In all these cases, the customers must fully understand the processes and content of the services. This is not as good as possible in a second or third language as in the client’s mother tongue.

“Misunderstandings due to translation errors can lead to damage for the clients, malpractice and legal defeat. It is therefore essential that South African lawyers must not only be proficient in English,” says Bailey.

In the letter, AfriForum also asks what steps the RPR will take to make exams available in more official languages ​​in the future.

“The RPR as a legal body should have a deeper insight into the rights of people and communities. This short-sighted and hostile decision of theirs is tragic and must be opposed. If the RPR does not respond positively to AfriForum’s letter, the latter in collaboration with other bodies will take the necessary steps to do so,” says Bailey.

The DA also asks the council to reconsider the decision and engage with stakeholders and work towards a “solution that upholds the constitutional ideals of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities in the legal profession”.