HL Deb 27 May 1852 vol 121 cc1173-5

called the attention of the Lord Chancellor to the report of the trial of John Joseph Corley, at the Monmouthshire assizes, on the 26th of March last, which represented the Judge of Assize to have stated to a witness, who desired to be examined in Welch, that he would not allow her expenses if she did not speak English. It had been stated that this witness, who was the wife of a respectable farmer, had only claimed the right of being examined, and of speaking in Welch, because she wished to fence with the question; but this he utterly denied, and claimed for her, as a native of the Principality, the right of being examined in her own language. He justified her claim on this ground: Ever since the time of the late Lord Castlereagh, we had claimed and maintained our right to address the despatches of the English Government to foreign Courts in the English language, in order that we might not be involved in difficulties by having expressed our meaning erroneously in a foreign language. On the same ground he claimed for the natives of Wales the right to give their evidence in the language which they knew best, and in which they were the least likely to make unintentional mistakes. He called upon the noble and learned Lord upon the woolsack to explain the position of the law on this question, and to state whether the natives of Wales were not entitled, as a matter of right, to be examined by means of an interpreter in the Welch language in courts of justice, when called upon to give evidence, if they demanded it. In making this Motion, he by no means intended to impeach the administration of justice in Wales by English Judges, or to cast any slur upon the learned Judge who had conducted this trial.


after reading the notice given by the noble Earl, observed, that that being the only question to which he was prepared to reply, he declined to give an off-hand answer to the abstract topics which the noble Earl had just mooted, namely, as to the right of the natives of Wales to be examined in the Welch tongue. He had. had a communication with the learned Judge who presided at the trial to which the noble Earl had alluded; and a more learned, enlightened, and excellent Judge was not to be found on the bench of justice, nor one more anxious to give every advantage to the poor suitor. The explanation of that learned Judge appeared to him to be quite satisfactory. He stated it to be his opinion that it was important to the pure administration of justice in the Welch counties that witnesses who understood English should be made to give their testimony in English. He had found from experience that the natives of Wales often pretended to know no English when they knew it well enough, and insisted on being examined in Welch through an interpreter; and it was necessary, in order to induce them to speak English, to be told that they would not be allowed their expenses unless they did so. In the present case the Judge had told the witness, who undoubtedly understood English—for she answered his communications in that language—that, if she did not speak English, he would not allow her any expenses. She insisted, however, on speaking in Welch, and afterwards claimed and received her expenses. He was afraid that the result of this brief discussion would be this—that Welch witnesses, who could speak English, would hereafter refuse to do so.


defended the conduct of the learned Judge who presided at the trial, and reminded their Lordships that ever since the reign of Henry VII., Monmouthshire had been an English and not a Welch county.


said, that much time and much trouble would be saved in the administration of justice by examining Welch witnesses in the Welch language. Besides, justice could not be fairly administered in the Welch counties unless some latitude were allowed to witnesses in this respect. It was true that Monmouthshire was now an English county; but in one-half of it, that is to say, the mountainous districts, the Welch language was more used than the English. The witness in this case might have been—he did not say that she was—a most material witness, either for the prosecution or the defence; and it was therefore important that she should have the power of selecting the language which she understood best, and with which she was most familiar, as that in which she would give her evidence. He himself understood Welch enough to read it, and to converse in it with the peasantry; but if he were going to be examined in a Welch court of justice on any matter of importance, he should claim for himself the right of being examined in English, and of having his evidence explained to the jury by means of an interpreter. If such should be his determination, how much more likely was it that it should be the determination of a half-ignorant and half-educated person, like this farmer's wife, whom he understood to be a very well-conducted and respectable woman?