Following a hearing on 20 July 2023, the Welsh Language Tribunal has published its decision, which has confirmed a ruling made in an enforcement investigation by the Welsh Language Commissioner.
The Commissioner ruled that Neath Port Talbot Council had breached Welsh language standards by failing to conscientiously consider the impact of its decision to reorganise three primary schools in its area on the Welsh language in a consultation document on the matter.
Today's ruling is a significant one that will lead to better consideration of the Welsh language in policy and strategic decisions. Organisations will have to say how they have considered the impact of the decisions they want to take on the Welsh language within their consultation documents.
Welcoming the ruling, Welsh Language Commissioner Efa Gruffudd Jones said,
“I have an expectation that conscientious consideration is given to relevant decisions taken and organisations will not only need to consider the direct effects of their policy and strategic decisions on the Welsh language, but also the indirect effects of those decisions.
"This confirms my view that organisations must do more in order to comply with Welsh language standards when they consult on their policy proposals. The Tribunal has ruled in accordance with what I originally ruled as Commissioner. This case sets an important precedent and organisations will be required to consider the judgement carefully."
The Tribunal's decision highlighted two important elements:
- Organisations must include sufficient information in consultation documents about the possible effects of their proposals on the Welsh language, so that the public can consider them and respond intelligently to them. That means that it is necessary to do more than just state that consideration has been given to the effects. A conscientious effort must be made to identify the relevant factors and their impact on the Welsh language.
- Direct and indirect effects must be considered. In the case in question which related to the reorganisation of schools, the Tribunal noted that the effects of the decision on the Welsh language should be considered from a community perspective, and that it had not been appropriate to limit the assessment made to the impact solely on the schools that were being reorganised.
Efa Gruffudd Jones added,
"I have received a number of complaints regarding consultation documents, and some specifically about the reorganisation of education and this is not the only case relating to assessing the impact on the Welsh language to reach the Tribunal.
"One of our constant aims is to increase people's opportunities to use the Welsh language and it is necessary to ensure that public bodies fully consider the linguistic impact on communities when developing and implementing plans.
"Responsibility for the welfare of the Welsh language belongs to more than one body and our public bodies have a duty to offer comprehensive services through the Welsh language and to consider the Welsh language in all policy areas. Following this decision by the Tribunal I will take the opportunity to remind them again of their duties and responsibilities."
A Neath Port Talbot Council spokesperson said,
“The decision of the Welsh Language Tribunal is respected and understood.
“The basis of the council’s referral of this matter to the tribunal was to bring more legal certainty and clarity to the interpretation of the Welsh Language Standards in this matter and for any future consultations, in all areas, that the council embarks on.
“The council will work on implementing the tribunal’s findings and we look forward to working with the Welsh Language Commissioner’s office to help shape guidance in the future for both this and other councils in Wales.”
The Welsh Language Commissioner was represented by barrister Gwion Lewis KC (Landmark Chambers) and Daniel Taylor, Emyr Lewis and Tomos Lewis from Blake Morgan solicitors and they will now work with the Commissioner to organise sessions for relevant bodies in order to advise on these matters.
The full ruling is available to read here