Gaelic finally used in legal parlance

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A LEGAL first is thought to have been created in the Western Isles yesterday when a lawyer addressed a court in Gaelic.

Solicitor Angus MacDonald received permission from Sheriff David Sutherland to speak through the medium of the language in Stornoway Sheriff Court.

Mr MacDonald is also president of An Comunn Gaidhealach, the organisers of the annual showcase of Gaelic music and culture, the Royal National Mod, which is being held in the islands this week.

As official court proceedings got under way yesterday morning, Mr MacDonald said: "I think it would be appropriate, seeing as this week we are hosting the Royal National Mod in the Western Isles that I speak in my own language, Gaelic, which is the first language of the majority of people in these islands."

Mr MacDonald then switched to English to tell the court that he hoped the day would eventually come when an entire case could be conducted in Gaelic.

Although it has been known in the past for witnesses to speak in the language, this is thought to be very first time it has been used by a lawyer in official proceedings.

Comunn na Gaidhlig chief executive Donald Martin welcomed the historic occasion, but pointed out that few were aware it was now possible to use Gaelic in the sheriff courts of Stornoway, Portree and Lochmaddy.

He explained that following the ratification of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages the Scottish Executive had made provision for the language to be used in local courts where Gaelic is seen as being strongest.

"I very much welcome this," said Mr Martin. "I think it's appropriate it's done this week and I hope it will encourage more use of Gaelic in the courts."

The intervention of Mr MacDonald comes as the Mod, colloquially known as the Whisky Olympics, lived up to its name.

Despite the fact that the majority of competing adults have yet to arrive in the islands it emerged that the event had run out of supplies of Islay Mist, the whisky which is this year sponsoring the event.

Charles Wilson, managing director of MacDuff International, could scarcely hide his delight, or surprise.

He said: "Here we are on just the second day of competitions and I have already had to send for extra supplies."

In the competitions themselves it was certainly a day for celebration for the Arnott family from Fort William as sisters Claire, 12, and Elise, ten, won the Angus MacTavish Memorial Trophy for under-13 duet singing.

The two sisters, who sing in the Lochaber Junior Choir, won the same competition last year in Perth. Claire also won a solo competition for under 13s this year.

Dad Neil said: "I don't think anybody has managed to hold on to that trophy before. We're certainly very proud of them, both myself and their mother, Morag."

In the James C MacPhee Memorial Medal for 13- to 15-year-olds it was a case of a home win on both counts, with Daniel Smith, from Back in Lewis, and Maria MacLeod, from Sandwick near Stornoway, winning the boys' and girls' sections.

Daniel's mother, Anne, explained they had a pre-event headache as younger sister Joanna, four, was prevented from witnessing the spectacle as it was feared she would break out in song half way through to accompany her brother.

"We wouldn't let her in because she was just as likely to start singing along with him," said Mrs Smith. "She's learnt all the words and she joins in with him quite a lot."