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The right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings

To improve mutual trust between European Union (EU) countries and to ensure the right to a fair trial, this directive sets out common minimum rules in the field of interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings.

ACT

Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings.

SUMMARY

The directive establishes common minimum rules for European Union (EU) countries on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings as well as in proceedings for the execution of the European arrest warrant. It contributes to the proper functioning of judicial cooperation within the EU by facilitating the mutual recognition of judicial decisions in criminal matters. The directive also aims to improve the protection of individual rights by developing the minimum standards for the right to a fair trial and the right of defence guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

Right to interpretation and translation

The right to interpretation and translation must be provided to persons who do not speak or understand the language of the procedure. This right must be provided from the time these persons are made aware of being suspected or accused of a criminal offence until the end of the criminal proceedings, including sentencing and ruling on appeal. In the case of minor offences, if sanctions are imposed by an authority other than a court having jurisdiction in criminal matters (e.g. the police following a traffic control), the right to interpretation and translation will only apply to the proceedings following an appeal before such a court.

EU countries must also make interpretation available for the persons concerned to communicate with their legal counsel on matters relating directly to any questioning or hearing during the proceedings or to the lodging of an appeal. They must have in place a mechanism for determining whether interpretation is necessary or not.

EU countries must also provide, within a reasonable time period, the suspected or accused persons with a written translation of essential documents, namely of any:

  • decision depriving them of liberty;
  • charge or indictment;
  • judgement.

On a case by case basis, the competent authorities may decide to translate any other documents. The suspected or accused persons or their legal counsel may also request the translation of other essential documents. In exceptional cases, an oral translation or an oral summary of the essential documents may be provided instead of a written translation, if this does not compromise the fairness of the proceedings.

Similarly, in proceedings for the execution of a European arrest warrant, the competent authorities must provide the persons concerned with interpretation and with a written translation of the warrant, if necessary.

The suspected or accused persons must have the right to challenge a decision whereby interpretation or translation is refused. They must also have the right to complain about the quality of the provided interpretation or translation, if it is not sufficient to guarantee the fairness of the proceedings.

Quality of interpretation and translation

EU countries must ensure that the quality of translation and interpretation is sufficient to allow the persons concerned to understand the case against them and to exercise the right of defence. To this end, EU countries should take concrete measures and, in particular, set up a register or registers of independent and appropriately qualified interpreters and translators.

Costs and recording

Regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings, EU countries must bear the costs of the interpretation and translation provided to the suspected or accused persons.

EU countries must use the recording procedure in accordance with their national law to note when the person concerned has:

  • been questioned or heard with an interpreter;
  • been provided with an oral translation or oral summary of essential documents;
  • waived the right to translation of documents.

Background

On 30 November 2009, the Council adopted a roadmap for strengthening procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings, which called for the adoption of measures also on the right to translation and interpretation. This roadmap was included into the Stockholm programme adopted on 10 December 2009. At the same time, the Commission was invited to assess further aspects of minimum procedural rights for suspected or accused persons to improve cooperation between EU countries in this field.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Directive 2010/64/EU

15.11.2010

27.10.2013

OJ L 280 of 26.10.2010

Last updated: 20.01.2011
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