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Evolution of Bilingual Judgments in New Brunswick

Maritime Law Book is proud to have been part of the development of the only provincial bilingual law reporter in Canada. Namely, the New Brunswick Reports (2d).

Here is how that development took place. 

New Brunswick has a population of approx. 750,000. And approx. 35% of New Brunswickers speak French as a first language.

In 1969 New Brunswick enacted its first Official Languages Act, making it Canada’s first and only officially bilingual province.

In 1969 the province’s statutes, regulations, by-laws, etc., were in English only. In the courts, pleadings and trials, both civil and criminal, were in English only; in the land registry offices conveyances were in English only.

In 1969 the province’s only law school at the University of New Brunswick offered courses in English only. A French language law school was founded in 1978 at the École de droit, Université de Moncton. The École de droit offers a common law legal education taught entirely in French.

In 1969 the province’s law reports were in English only (see New Brunswick Reports 1825-1929, Maritime Provinces Reports 1930-1968). The New Brunswick Reports (2d) commenced in 1969.

In the 1970s some judgments from the N.B. courts were filed in the French language and some of these judgments were published in the N.B.R. (2d) without translations but with English headnotes. Starting in 1982 the N.B. Department of Justice funded the translation of both English and French language judgments. The translation work is done by the Centre de traduction at the Université de Moncton. The translation of judicial decisions is complex, difficult and costly. The Centre de traduction employs both translators and legally trained revisors.

Starting in 1982 the N.B.R.(2d) format changed from one column per page to two columns per page with English on the left and French on the right. From 1982 to 1987 the headnotes in the N.B.R.(2d) were in English only. Starting in 1987 the headnotes were translated with funding from the Federal Government (this funding terminated in 2007 and the headnotes in the N.B.R.(2d) are presently published in English only with French topical cross-references).

The N.B.R.(2d) in print includes all of the decisions of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal and selected judgments from the lower courts. Starting in 1997 all decisions received from the N.B. courts are loaded on the Maritime Law Book website, www.mlb.nb.ca.

All decisions of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal are issued by the court in both official languages, pursuant to section 25 of the Official Languages Act, S.N.B. 2002, c. O-0.5. 

The N.B.R.(2d) reports all decisions of the Court of Appeal in both official languages.

Some lower court decisions are also issued in both official languages and the N.B.R.(2d) reports them as issued. However, most lower court decisions are issued in only one of the official languages. The editors of the New Brunswick Reports (2d) select which decisions are to be translated, guided by the provisions of s. 24(1) of the Official Languages Act, and request a translation where (a) the case “determines a question of interest or importance to the general public”, or (b) the proceedings are conducted, in whole or in part, in both official languages. However, some decisions that are of interest and use to a lawyer do not determine questions of “importance to the general public”. For example, some practice points, some damage awards, some maintenance awards, etc., are reported in the N.B.R.(2d) with a headnote but without a translation.

Translations of lower court decisions in the N.B.R.(2d) are not official, because the translations have not been approved by the judges. Translations of N.B. Court of Appeal decisions are official.

In the province of Quebec, where French is the official language, the judicial decisions can be delivered in either English and French and are not translated. Most of the Quebec Court of Appeal decisions are in French and are not translated. See the Globe and Mail, August 20, 2008, where the Quebec Chief Justice stated that the translation of the Court of Appeal’s most important judgments into English would make the judgments available to the rest of Canada.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this post Eric. It will be great to have this “why” documented.

  2. Gary P. Rodrigues

    Eric Appleby’s very modest summary of his achievement in launching the New Brunswick Reports in French and English is characteristic of the man.
    Almost a decade before Jules Deschenes delivered his famous address on “Judicial Separatism in Canada”, describing the gulf in the development of federal law that existed between Quebec and the common-law provinces, Eric was doing the seemingly impossible by bridging the gulf in New Brunswick between its two linguistic communities.

    In the context of the times (or anytime for that matter), this was a major accomplishment. Here we have a neophyte publisher able to do what neither Canada Law Book, the leading legal publisher of the day, nor Carswell, the number two at the time, were even prepared to attempt. Their half hearted efforts are documented in the Deschenes article.

    Eric did not stop with New Brunswick but proceeded to create a National Reporter System that at one time included a series of law reports for every province of Canada including Quebec. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the story in future columns.