Rights and Governments

What Language Can I Speak in Court in Quebec?

Bill 96 has changed some of Quebec’s language laws. This article is up to date and reflects the current rules.


In Quebec, the law gives people language rights in courts and tribunals. This is true whether you are accused of a crime, a party or a witness.

Members of the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi communities also have the right to use their indigenous language, but not in every court.

microphone,Table and chair in the courtroom of the judiciary.

What your language rights cover  

In Quebec, you have the right to use either French or English during hearings and in official court and tribunal documents.  

However, if you communicate with courts and tribunals in any other capacity, such as to request information or to open a file with them, the rules may differ. You may speak the language of your choosing, but they must generally respond to you in French.  

You must meet certain requirements to get them to respond to you in English. 

I am accused of a crime  

If you are facing criminal charges, you have the right to address the court in either English or French and ask that most of the process take place in that language. However, there are some exceptions. 

Your Language Rights   

Here are some concrete examples of what it means to have the right to address the court in either English or French:  

  • The document that contains your criminal charges must be written in the language you choose.  
  • Your lawyer must speak your language of choice in court and use it for documents they submit to the court.  
  • The prosecutor must use the language you choose. 
  • The judge must use your language of choice during the preliminary inquiry and the trial.  
  • The jury members must all speak the language you choose.  
  • The final decision must either be in the language of your choice or translated into it.  

Did you know?  

A preliminary inquiry is a kind of mini-trial where the judge decides whether the case against you is strong enough to go ahead. The preliminary inquiry and trial can be among the most important parts of the case.

Right to an Interpreter  

However, the right to choose between English and French doesn’t mean that everything will take place in the language of your choice. For example, some of the evidence might be submitted in the other language. Also, in some cases, the judge might order a bilingual trial if co-accused individuals speak different languages and have their cases heard at the same time.

In those instances, you have a right to an interpreter. The government pays for their fees.  

Request the language of your choice 

To make sure your rights are respected, you must make a request to the court. The sooner, the better, but your last chance is when you go to court to set a trial date.  

During your first appearance in court, you must be informed of your language rights and of the time frame you have to file a language request.  This is the judge’s responsibility.  

I am a party to a civil case 

If you are going to court because you are suing someone or someone is suing you, then you are a party to a civil case. Civil cases deal with problems between individuals or organizations, like family or contract disputes. 

Language rights  

In a civil case, each party has a right to use the language of their choice. You can speak in court and submit documents in French or in English. 

Know however, that the other party has the same right – you therefore cannot oblige them to speak your language of choice.

You also have the right to request the translation of the judge’s decision if it’s not in your official language of choice.

Right to an interpreter  

You can have an interpreter if you don’t understand the language spoken in court. In most cases, the party who needs an interpreter will have to pay for it. However, the judge can order the losing side to reimburse the cost of the interpreter.

I have a case before an administrative tribunal 

In Quebec, administrative tribunals are different than courts. They generally deal with specific areas of law. For example, the Tribunal administratif du logement (or “TAL” for short) is the body that hears rental housing disputes.

When addressing an administrative tribunal, your language rights are the same as for a civil case: you can speak in English or in French. As a witness, you can also opt for either official language.

I am a witness  

If you are called as a witness, you will be asked to speak before the court and provide valuable information to the judge or jury. You can be a witness in a criminal, civil or administrative case.  

As a witness, you are free to speak English or French. If you don’t speak English or French well enough, you can speak another language with the help of an interpreter.  

Indigenous Language Rights  

If you are Cree, Inuit or Naskapi, you have particular language rights when going to court in your community’s judicial district.  

Specifically, you have the right 

  • to speak in your own language in court, 
  • to have an interpreter at no cost during the trial, 
  • to have free simultaneous interpretation into your language of decisions given verbally in court,
  • to have free translations into your language of written decisions not given verbally in court, and
  • to have free simultaneous interpretation into your language of what witnesses said and of other important statements made by the accused, the lawyers, and the judge.  

In cases where you are accused of a crime, the jury can include members of your community even if they do not speak English or French fluently. Speaking English or French fluently is normally a requirement to be on a jury.