The right to translation and interpretation services is high on the agenda in the EU and Spain
The EU has moved closer to providing full and proper access to language services for citizens involved in criminal proceedings in Member States. A draft Directive to improve and standardise the provision of translation and interpreting services was advanced yesterday when it was announced that the initiative put forward by 13 Member States in 2009 had received the backing of the EP Civil Liberties Committee and that talks could now take place with the Council.
The move is supported by Human Rights organisations and language professionals across Europe. Not only does it provide for unhindered access to linguistic services for suspects, it also requires Member States to adopt systems for training, qualification and accreditation for translators and interpreters. A database of qualified professionals will be created – a resource which will be made available to the relevant legal personnel on a ‘cross-border’ basis.
The Directive will also bring about changes in the implementation of the controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and hopefully put an end to the miscarriages of justice which prevail when citizens are stripped of their language rights (e.g. the Polish suspect denied access to written translations of evidence against him in French court). The press release also listed further welcome changes: ‘video links, telephone or internet access may be employed as a “last resort”’ when translators / interpreters are not immediately to hand (such as in emergency situations, but not suitable for court proceedings); language services will be provided along the entire timeline of criminal proceedings; and those with physical or learning disabilities will receive proper assistance. Finally, the cost will be borne by the Member State rather than the individual – giving all citizens, regardless of wealth, equal access to the justice system.
An article published in Spanish newspaper El País on 6 April 2010 also raises similar concerns for Spain’s legal system. It was reported that Basque lawyer and Ombudsman, Mr Iñigo Lamarca, called for a network of translators and interpreters to be created which would give the Basque Administration the ability to provide proper language services to immigrants who cannot speak Spanish or Euskara. It is said that these services are often ‘improvised’ and therefore compromise ‘confidentiality, linguistic accuracy and cultural sensitivities’ and impair a person’s right to free speech.
With a decision on the EU Directive expected in June, it would appear that the fundamental right to full and proper access to language services will soon become a reality for every citizen, in every Member State.
Sources: www.europarl.europa.eu/ ; www.elpais.com