Only 14% of judges have a basic level of Catalan

80% of courts do not respect litigants' preferred language option and continue notifying resolutions in Spanish

3 min
A courtroom at the Ciutat de la Justicia, in an archive image

BarcelonaThe first analysis of the use of Catalan in the administration of justice reveals a bleak picture. Spanish continues to be the court's mother tongue, despite efforts by the Generalitat to reverse the situation. The indicator that until now was used to measure the use of Catalan – the number of sentences passed in this language – has reached historic lows: out of every 100 sentences that are made public, not even 7 are written in Catalan. But the rest of the values that the Department has reviewed show that Catalan is not even respected when it is litigants themselves who request it: according to the results, 376,627 litigants who requested to receive notifications in Catalan have found that they continue to receive them in Spanish, i.e. 81% of the total. "And this does not help them to feel that justice is close to them", said Catalan Justice minister Lourdes Ciuró, who assured that if their linguistic preference is not respected, their citizenship rights are being violated.

Knowledge of Catalan in the public administration
Data from 2022

The low use of Catalan in the courts is largely explained by judges' and magistrates' lack of knowledge of the language: only 14% have level C1, which is the level obtained by students when they finish compulsory secondary education (ESO). In the case of prosecutors, only 9% have proven this level. The degree of knowledge of the language rises above 25% in the case of court clerks and officials. It must be said, however, that most professionals did not say what their level was.

It is true that most of the judges and prosecutors practising in Catalonia are from other parts of Spain, but training in Catalan is not higher among lawyers either, a professional profile with a long tradition in Catalonia. According to the Department of Justice, most subjects offered in law degrees in many universities are in Spanish, except in Rovira i Virgili, Universitat de Girona, Universitat de Lleida and the UOC. Catalan is used in 41% of the teaching hours of the bachelor's degrees and only 31% in the case of master's degrees. In 2021 only 38 people took the bar entrance exam (which has thousands of applicants) in Catalan. This also explains why lawyers only present 6.2% of lawsuits in Catalan.

Teaching language in law degrees
Data from 2020-2021

Collecting complaints via QR

Against this backdrop, the Justice Department will implement a set of measures to reinforce the use of Catalan in the courts through the National Pact for Justice, which will be passed in July. Among them is the creation of a QR code through which citizens will be able to report violations of their linguistic rights from their mobile phones, and a campaign with the slogan "Using Catalan does not change the sentence. Do justice to Catalan", which are added to other measures from last year, such as grants to encourage the presence of Catalan judges.

To encourage training in Catalan among judges and prosecutors, negotiations will also be carried out with the Judicial School, so that a C1 certificate in Catalan can award bonus points towards getting a posting. "That is not a utopia, in fact, if it is not done it would be a comparative grievance because in Valencia this already exists," Ciuró recalled. In fact, the Generalitat has always claimed that knowledge of Catalan should not be a merit, but a requirement for access to the judicial career.

The drop in the use of Catalan in the justice system contrasts with the presence of the language in other areas, such as prisons or juvenile justice. Three quarters of the professionals in the penitentiary and juvenile justice fields speak Catalan among themselves, despite the fact that when they address prisoners and juvenile offenders they do so mostly in Spanish (the percentage of Catalan use does not exceed 30%). On the other hand, Catalan is the predominant language in training and literacy workshops in prisons and juvenile justice centres.