New interpretation law in Europe must be applied by October 2013

EU Member States have 2 months to implement a new law guaranteeing suspects the right to translation and interpretation.  From October 2013, suspects who do not speak the language of the proceedings will be guaranteed the right to free interpretation during police proceedings, court hearings, extradition procedures and, in some cases, to help them communicate with their lawyers. Suspects also have the right to the translation of documents essential for them to prepare their defence. A summary of the law is available here.

Although translation and interpretation are an essential part of fair criminal proceedings, Fair Trials International helps hundreds of people each year who are denied this basic right, and who, as a result, find it impossible to build an effective defence. Our client Garry Mann reported that he received extremely poor interpretation during an interrogation in Portugal, meaning he was unable to understand or participate in any of the proceedings. Problems can also arise much later in the case – such as with Gerry Gallant, a Dutch national arrested in Italy, who had spent six months in prison before he finally received a translated version of his official sentence.

Lawyers from across the EU have reported that these are not isolated examples. Over the past six months, Fair Trials has brought together expert lawyers from 19 Member States to discuss recurring problems within criminal justice systems. The poor quality of interpretation during criminal proceedings, often due to a failure to assess an interpreter’s competence, was amongst the most serious issues. Lawyers have also reported that serious concerns about the independence of interpreters (who often rely on police for their work and are therefore reluctant to jeopardise their relationship). You can read the concerns of lawyers from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Romania here.

Fair Trials campaigned hard for this law which we believe can prevent repeats of many of the injustices we have seen.  It will also provide an important safeguard within extradition proceedings, ensuring that suspects are not fast-tracked to an unfamiliar country only to find they cannot understand any of the proceedings. If Member States fail to implement the Directive or uphold the prescribed standards, they could face infringement proceedings within the Court of Justice of the European Union.

As with many defence rights, the law will only work if defence lawyers are aware of it and know how to use it. Over the next year, Fair Trials will continue to work closely with lawyers across the EU, providing practical training on the use of the Directive. We also intend to gather information on the steps taken by Member States to implement the law, and the way in which it is applied by judges and prosecutors, so that we can inform the institutions of the EU of the way the law is being used in practice.

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