THE EUROPEAN Commission has proposed minimum standards for interpretation and translation for suspects standing trial in a country where the language is not their own. The proposed legislation is designed to help people to get a fair trial anywhere in the EU, even when they cannot understand the language of the case.
The need for standardised procedural rights and the barriers which can lead to unfair convictions during judicial proceedings in other EU countries have been highlighted by a number of real-life cases. These include an Italian tourist involved in a traffic accident in Sweden who was not allowed to talk to an Italian-speaking lawyer during trial, and a Polish suspect who could not see written translations of evidence used against him in a French court.
The proposed new Directive replaces a Framework Decision on interpretation and translation rights in July 2009, which became void upon the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on December 1st, 2009.
On November 30th, 2009, EU governments asked the commission to put forward proposals on a “step-by-step” basis to establish EU-wide standards for a series of procedural rights. The commission is thus turning the proposed Framework Decision into a Directive.
This proposal is the first step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. The Lisbon Treaty enables the EU to adopt measures to strengthen the rights of EU citizens, in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The proposal strengthens citizens’ rights to interpretation and translation in three ways: interpretation would have to be provided for communication with lawyers as well as during investigations – such as police questioning – and at trial; the proposal covers written translation of all essential documents such as the detention order, the charge sheet or indictment, or vital pieces of evidence; citizens must have the right to legal advice before waiving the right to interpretation and translation; translation and interpretation costs will have to be met by the member state, not by the suspect – irrespective of the final decision.
“We are taking a first important step towards a Europe where justice knows no borders. Nobody in the EU should ever feel that their rights and their protections are weakened simply because they are not in their home countries,” said vice-president Viviane Reding, the EU’s commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship.
The Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, proposed by the commission, will be the first Directive to strengthen criminal justice since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.
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