Ante Portas: English As An Official Language In Switzerland


English as an official language - the dams start to burst

At the beginning of this year, the Swiss Federal Government presented a legislative bill to revise certain aspects of international arbitration legislation in Switzerland. The majority of the proposed changes and amendments shall write into the law the more important court precedents rendered by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court over the last 30 years (in order to secure Switzerland's position as an international arbitration place), the Swiss Federal Government also proposes a real innovation: court briefs filed in challenging international arbitration awards before Switzerland's Federal Supreme Court on the basis of gross formal and / or substantive violations of law (e.g. the "ordre public") could be held in English.

"The Swiss Tax Assistance Act of 2013 allows foreign authorities to submit their requests for administrative legal assistance in English."

By this and w/o saying it explicitly, the Swiss Federal Government makes English as one of the official languages in Switzerland. The proposal should be welcomed in principle, although one or more constitutional lawyers may rightly complain that the official languages ​on the federal level - German, French, Italian and Romantsch - are exclusively set by the Switzerland's Federal Constitution.

A finely dosed constitutional break - not for the first time

The Swiss Federal Government's proposal is a fine dose of constitutional breach what may be acceptable from time to time. Already now, attachments to court briefs can be filed in foreign languages w/o translation in all legal proceedings before the Swiss Federal Court (so not only in the context of international arbitration proceedings), as long as the opposing party consented. A similar rule applies since quite some time to all non-judicial, federal administrative procedures.

"The relationship between the English official language in international organizations and the official languages ​in Switzerland remains unclear."

The Swiss Federal Tax Assistance Act in force since 2013 allows foreign authorities to submit their requests for administrative legal assistance in English. The Swiss Takeover Board was cautious in its wording when one of its ordinances introduced English as a mere working language in 2015 (instead of speaking of an official language). The same holds true for Switzerland's Competition Commission since 2015, whereby the Commission can agree on the use of the English...

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