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Welsh History Review


Vol. 18, nos. 1-4 1996-97

The national petition on the legal status of the Welsh language, 1938-42

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Also be it enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that all Justices,
Commissioners, Sheriffs, Coroners, Escheators, Stewards and their
Lieutenants, and all other Officers and Ministers of the Law, shall
proclaim and keep the Sessions Courts, Hundreds, Leets, Sheriffs
Courts, and all other Courts in the English Tongue; and all Oaths of
Officers, Juries and Inquests, and all other Affidavits, Verdicts and
Wagers of Law, to be given and done in the English Tongue; and also
that from henceforth no Person or Persons that use the Welsh Speech or
Language shall have or enjoy any Manner, Office or Fees within this
Realm of England, Wales, or other the King's Dominion, upon pain of
forfeiting the same Offices or Fees, unless he or they use and exercise the
English Speech or Language.
THE harsh verbiage of Section 17 of the first instalment of the Union
legislation of 1536, the first attempt to regulate by law the language
used in the law courts throughout Wales, possessed a special
significance four centuries later in the Wales of the 1930s when cultural
barriers, dividing Welsh-speaking from non-Welsh-speaking Welshmen,
seemed to intensify the impact of severe economic depression and
social deprivation, introducing into Welsh life in the inter-war period an
obvious and visible tension.
The legal problem had been sharply highlighted in a case at the
Caernarfonshire quarter sessions in 1933 when the chairman of the
bench (who happened to be none other than D. Lloyd George)
proposed that the trial should be conducted entirely in the Welsh
language as all the jurors, the. advocates, most of the justices, the
1 Quoted in J. A. Andrews and L. G. Henshaw, The Welsh Language in the Courts
(Aberystwyth, 1984), p. 1.
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