European Commission to raise the bar for fair trials with improved translation and interpretation services
Yesterday the European Commission (EC) announced welcome plans to make full and proper translation and interpretation services available for all suspects involved in criminal proceedings. Human Rights organisations have applauded this move which will enable citizens to exercise their right to a fair trial anywhere in the community, regardless of their country of origin or native language.
In such a multicultural environment, it seems implausible that the cases cited in the europa.eu press release were ever allowed to take place: ‘the Italian tourist involved in a traffic accident in Sweden who was not allowed to talk to an Italian-speaking lawyer during trial’ and the ‘Polish suspect who could not see written translations of evidence used against him in a French court’. The proposed legislation is a step forward in ensuring that such situations remain consigned to the past and become unacceptable in today’s society.
This new Directive targets the provision of translation and interpretation services both before and during criminal proceedings and covers three main areas. In the case of interpretation, this will be provided for communication with lawyers, during police interrogation and also at court. For translation, all essential documents will need to be translated which means that charge sheets, for example, will require a full translation instead of a mere overall oral summary of the evidence. And finally, it is hoped that people will no longer be pressurised into waiving their rights to access language services as in the future, speaking to a solicitor can take place in the presence of an interpreter.
The EU Observer in Brussels reported that in 2002 the European Parliament and Amnesty International backed a similar Directive, but as all member states could not agree – the proposal was unsuccessful. However, with the heightened usage of the controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and increased European mobility, it is hoped that proper language representation will soon be available in all criminal proceedings – not just in court, but also in every stage prior to trial. It is anticipated that the improved charge sheet information will come into force as soon as summer 2010.
A further issue addressed by the planned legislation is the cost of providing these language services, which will no longer be the responsibility of the individual but borne by the Member State instead.
This new Directive is sure to provoke a backlash from many British tabloids, already quick to criticise the high cost to the ‘taxpayer’ of these vital (yet evidently deficient) translation and interpretation services. However, for an alternative opinion grounded in the principles of the EU Charter for Human Rights, we turn to Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship who stated that the proposal was the ‘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.’ Unhindered access to translation and interpretation services is certainly one step in the right direction to ensure true mobility between Member States and equality for all citizens.