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Indigenous people, language and criminal justice: the experience of first language Welsh speakers in wales

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This article examines the commitment of the criminal justice system (CJS) for England and Wales to respond to the needs of the largest territorially bound linguistic minority group in the UK - Welsh speakers in Wales. The article contextualizes the experience of the Welsh speakers historically, making links with the experience of other indigenous national linguistic minorities worldwide. The importance of language choice is discussed and the reality of linguistic choice within the CJS in Wales is explored in a small scale study with probation staff. Their responses to a brief questionnaire indicate that language choice is not a reality for the majority of Welsh speakers in Wales. The judicial and rehabilitative consequences of this lack of choice are explored. It is argued that a focus on non-discrimination in policy and practice at the international and national level, the vagueness of linguistic rights legislation and the centralization of the CJS in the UK leads to the oppression of Welsh speakers offenders in the criminal justice system in Wales. This article proposes that a passive approach to language choice for indigenous linguistic minorities like the Welsh is unacceptable and that a proactive commitment to linguistically sensitive practice should be adopted on the basis of social justice, equal opportunities and to effectively engage with offenders to protect the public. Nine principles for effective criminal justice practice with Welsh speakers in Wales are proposed which it is argued, have wider applicability with indigenous/substate national linguistic communities worldwide.

Keywords: Justice; Minority; Offenders; Rights

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2004

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