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Welsh Language Commissioner makes history challenging Treasury-backed NS&I

DATE: 21 Feb 2014

A three-day judicial review of the decision of National Savings & Investments (NS&I) to abolish its Welsh language scheme has started in the Divisional Court in Cardiff this week.

The Treasury-backed NS&I is one of the UK’s largest organisations for savings and investments, with over 25 million customers across the country. Until last year, NS&I offered a range of services in Welsh pursuant to a language scheme agreed with the Welsh Language Board. They included enabling customers to make telephone enquiries in Welsh, and providing information about NS&I’s services in Welsh on its website.

In April 2013, NS&I purported to abolish its Welsh language scheme and discontinue its Welsh language services in their entirety, claiming that the cost was disproportionately high. The Welsh Language Commissioner, who has taken over the Board’s duties and powers in relation to Welsh language schemes, conducted a statutory investigation into NS&I’s decision and concluded that it was unlawful. The Commissioner urged NS&I to reinstate its language scheme immediately, but it refused to do so, prompting the Commissioner to apply for judicial review.

The case is significant for several reasons. Not only is it the Commissioner’s first judicial review since her office was established in 2011, but it is also the first time that the court will consider, in detail, the Welsh Language Act 1993.

The case is also historically significant as it is the first time that a party has made written and oral submissions in judicial review proceedings exclusively in Welsh. In making directions for the hearing, Hickinbottom J confirmed that, in Wales, parties have the right to address the court in English or Welsh as they prefer. The court issued its order for directions in both languages and made arrangements for live translation at the hearing.

Hickinbottom J also ordered that the matter should be heard by two judges in the Divisional Court, one of whom should be able to speak Welsh. Hickinbottom J and HHJ Milwyn Jarman QC are presiding over the hearing this week.

Gwion Lewis is acting as sole Counsel for the Welsh Language Commissioner. For more details of the background to the case, please click here.