A discussion on the Canadian Association of Law Libraries list this morning strikes me as worth a share here. Dawn Urquhart drew subscribers’ attention to a National Post – Legal Post article published on the web yesterday, “Court decisions may be lost in translation.” The article appears in today’s National Post with the somewhat less fair title, “Quebec decisions isolated by lack of translation,” and the even less fair lede, “Lawyers outside Quebec can’t read useful judgments.”
The author cites Ted Tjaden’s excellent post here on Slaw from last year, wherein Ted noted the limited overlap in publication of court decisions in both French and English and also referred readers to the unofficial translations of selected decisions made available by SOQUIJ.
Ted’s post explains the situation:
The reality is that unless the decision is published in an official court reporter or a bilingual jurisdiction (see below), most court decisions in Canada will be published only in a single language, typically the language in which the cases is argued. For most decisions in Canada, this means that the decision will be in English only and there will not automatically be English translations of most French-language decisions.
Ted notes the exceptions of New Brunswick and decisions of the Federal Courts and the Supreme Court, which publish decisions in both languages; this is also referenced in the Legal Post article.
Those readers of the print edition who continued beyond the headline and lede will have seen that the issue is not one of linguistic isolation by Quebec. Lawyers, librarians, and other researchers are likely to miss a large body of Canadian case law if they do not have at least reading ability in both French and English or access to translation services.
Perhaps it is accurate to suggest Quebec court decisions are less accessible to researchers in other jurisdictions than decisions of other jurisdictions are to Quebec researchers. Without any supporting data, I’d venture to suggest any such disparity can be attributed to comprehension of English in Quebec that is greater than is comprehension of French outside of Quebec.
What are others’ thoughts?