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Colonial Cases

Lehrer v. Postmaster General, 1929


Lehrer v. Postmaster General

High Court, Jerusalem
Source: The Palestine Bulletin, 24 February 1929



Case Heard in High Court.

   On Friday the High Court on Jerusalem heard the complaint brought by a resident of Tel Aviv against the Postmaster General for his refusal to accept telegrams in Hebrew characters within Palestine.  The Court decided to instruct the Postmaster General to present explanations for his acting thus.


The Palestine Bulletin, 15 March 1929


   The High Court yesterday resumed the hearing of the case brought by Dr. Lerer of Tel Aviv against the Postmaster General for the latter's refusal to accept Hebrew telegrams in Hebrew characters.  The Government Advocate argued that the Language Ordinance of 1920 expressly stated that Hebrew telegrams should be accepted in Latin characters.  Dr. Lerer's counsel insisted that this Ordinance had been superseded by the provisions of the Mandate and the Palestine Order-in-Council forbidding any discrimination by law.  There is discrimination, he continued, as long as Arab telegrams in Arab characters are admitted while Hebrew telegrams in Hebrew characters are not.  Judgment was reserved.


The Palestine Bulletin, 2 May 1929


   This morning the High Court gave its judgment in the case brought by Dr. Lehrer, with advocate Frenkel, against the Postmaster General for refusing to accept Hebrew telegrams written in Hebrew characters within the country.  The High Court dismissed the case.


The Palestine Bulletin, 5 May 1929


      We publish below the full text of the judgment given last Thursday by the High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, in the case of Hebrew telegrams.

   In the Supreme Court sitting as a High Court of Justice.

   Before: The Senior British Judge and Mr. Justice Baker.

In the application of:

Dr. M. Lehrer - Petitioner


The Postmaster General - Respondent.

   Application for an order to issue to the Postmaster General directing him to accept telegrams in Hebrew characters.


   This is an application for an order to issue to the Postmaster General directing him to accept for transmission a telegram in the Hebrew language written in Hebrew characters.

   The Postmaster General while prepared to accept a telegram in the Hebrew language requires that it shall be submitted in Latin characters.

   The authority cited by the Attorney General on behalf of the Postmaster General for this rule is a Public Notice appearing in the Official Gazette of the Government of Palestine issued on the 1st October, 1926, headed "Use of Official Languages."

   Section 1 of this Notice reads: "English, Arabic and Hebrew are recognised as the official languages of Palestine."

   Section 3 reads: "Telegrams may be sent in any of the three languages, but if in Hebrew, they must be written in Latin characters, it not being practicable at present for the Post office to transmit telegrams in Hebrew characters."

   The petitioner alleges that this rule is invalid as being contrary to the terms of the Mandate in Palestine and the Palestine Order-in-Council, 1922.

   In reply, the Attorney General relied upon the judgment of this Court held that: "The terms of the Mandate are enforceable in the Courts only in so far as they are incorporated by the Palestine Order-in-Council, 1922, or any amendment thereof.

   Now although as regards legislation the Palestine Order-in-Council 1922 and the amending Order-in-Council 1923 both contain provisions prohibiting the passing of any ordinance inconsistent with the Mandate, there is no similar provision with regard to executive acts either in general or with special reference to the terms of Article 22.

   In so far as the Mandate is not incorporated into the Law of Palestine by the Order-in-Council its provisions have only the force of Treaty obligations and cannot be enforced by the Courts.

   In that case, however, the ground of the petition was an executive act in character, namely, the issue of postage stamps bearing certain Hebrew lettering.

   In the present case, on the other hand, the ground of the complaint is a regulation issued by the Government of Palestine and this legislative is not executive in character, and hence the rule laid down in ex parte Jamal Husseini does not apply to this petition.

   With regard to legislative acts of the Government of Palestine, it was laid down by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of the District Governor  Jerusalem-Jaffa Distinct vs. Suleiman Muvia:-

"The Supreme Court was fully justified in entertaining an argument as to the validity of the ordinance" and "it was the right and duty of the Court to examine the terms of the Mandate and to consider whether the ordinance was in any way repugnant to those terms."

   The scope of that ruling, however, must be carefully noted.  The legislation which the Judicial Committee had under consideration was an Ordinance made under the authority of the Order-in-Council of 1923.  The regulation we have now to consider is of a different character.  This is a regulation which was in force at the time of the issue of the Palestine Order-in-Council.  Art. 74 (a) of that Order declares that:-

"The Proclamations, Ordinances, Orders, Rules of Court and other legislative acts which have been issued or done by the High Commissioner or by any Department of the government of Palestine on or after 1/7/1920 shall be deemed to be and always to have been valid and of full effect and all acts done there under and all prohibitions contained therein shall be deemed to be valid."

   Hence it is clear that this legislation had the force of law by virtue of the Order of 1922 and the provisions of Art. 17 of that Order whether as originally issued or as amended by Art. 3 of the Order of 1923, prohibiting the promulgation of an ordinance inconsistent with the provisions of the Mandate, have no application to the regulation.

   It follows that we have not for the purpose of this petition to determine whether refusal to accept a telegram in Hebrew unless written in Latin characters is or is not inconsistent with the mandate.

   The only other Article of the Order-in-Council having any bearing upon the subject of this petition is Art. 82 which provides that:

"Three languages may be used in debates and discussions in the legislative Council and subject to any Regulations to be made from time to time in the Government and the Law Courts."

   No regulations having been issued since the Order-in-Council dealing with the question of the use of the official languages, the petitioner is entitled to argue that this Article means that the three languages may now be used in the Government offices and that it by implication repeals any earlier legislation to the contrary.

   We think that this contention is well founded and that if the Public Notice of the 1st October, 1920, had provided that telegrams must not be submitted for transmission in Hebrew, that provision would have been overruled by Art. 82.

   Such, however, is not the effect of the Public Notice.  The Notice makes clear provision for acceptance of telegrams in Hebrew, requiring only that they shall be written in Latin characters.

   An argument has been addressed to us to the effect that the use of Hebrew characters is an essential part of a message written in Hebrew.  This is a view that we cannot accept.  A message in Hebrew does not cease to be in Hebrew because it is rendered in Latin characters, anymore than a message in English ceases to be in English because it is rendered in the Morse Code.

   The petition must be dismissed.

Delivered this 2nd day of May, 1929.  (Sgd) KORRIE, Senior British Judge.

For Petitioner: Y. FRAENKEL, Adv.

For Respondent: PLUKETT, S.A.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School