Brussels, 8 April 2010
European Parliament panel backs Commission's call for robust translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings
The European Commission welcomes today's vote on fair trial rights in the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). The Committee supported with an overwhelming majority a high standard of protection for suspects' interpretation and translation rights in criminal proceedings, anywhere in the European Union. The vote backs EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding's call for the right to interpretation throughout the entire judicial procedure, translation for all documents and a guarantee of getting advice from a lawyer before waiving such rights. These safeguards were essential elements of the Commission's proposed Directive last month (IP/10/249). The amended proposal must now be approved by the entire European Parliament and by EU governments.
"I am glad that the European Parliament shares the European Commission's goal of ensuring a high standard of fair trial rights. It is important that we resist the temptation to settle for a less-than-comprehensive proposal that would risk not fully complying with the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. "I congratulate rapporteur Baroness Sarah Ludford and the Civil Liberties Committee for their dedication and hard work to ensure that rights to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings are protected across the EU. I am also very satisfied that the Commission's proposal on procedural rights of 9 March led the UK and Ireland to opt in the EU initiative on translation and interpretation rights."
Without minimum common standards to ensure fair proceedings, judicial authorities will be reluctant to send someone to face trial in another country. As a result, EU measures to fight crime – such as the European Arrest Warrant – may not be fully applied. 11,000 European Arrest Warrants were issued in 2007, up from 6,900 in 2005.
Written translation of all essential documents such as the detention order, charge sheet, indictment or other vital pieces of evidence. Citizens should not have to rely only on an oral translation summarising the evidence.
Interpretation would have to be provided for communication with lawyers as well as during investigations – such as police questioning – and at trial.
Citizens must have the right to legal advice before waiving the right to interpretation and translation. People should not be pressured into giving up their rights unless they have spoken to a lawyer.
"By taking a firm position on the importance of these rights, the Parliament has taken into account not only the view of the Commission, but also the view of those who deal with this issue day in, day out: national Bar Associations, the European Criminal Bar Association, and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. The fact that these organisations share the European Commission's concerns should be a strong motivation to urgently drive forward these proposals to make sure citizens receive the protection granted to them by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights," added Commissioner Reding.
The European Parliament will now vote on this proposal in an upcoming plenary session. It will then be discussed by the Council of Ministers in May as part of the ordinary legislative procedure introduced by the Lisbon Treaty for criminal justice matters.
Since "all in one" proposals on fair trial procedural rights have not received the unanimous support of EU governments since the Commission first made proposals in this area in 2004, the Commission is now taking a "step by step" approach. It will propose a series of measures over the next four years.
On 9 March, the Commission made the first step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. It proposed rules that would oblige EU countries to provide full interpretation and translation services to suspects.
Since the Commission announced its proposal the UK (on 8 March) and Ireland (on 7 April) decided to opt in the EU initiative on interpretation and translation rights in criminal proceedings.
The Commission will make the next step on procedural rights on the right to information (letter of rights) this summer.
Justice and Home Affairs Newsroom:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship: